As most of you have probably heard, the great George Carlin passed away yesterday at the age of 71. I had the pleasure of attending the comedian's performance last October at The Flynn Theater. Little did I know it would be one of his last. What follows is brief piece I wrote following the show that appeared in the October 31, 2007 issue of Seven Days. Given Bridget's last post, I find it an oddly appropriate way to say goodbye to a personal hero.
If any human being ever deserved to copyright a word or phrase,“fuck” should be George Carlin’s. No single person has explored itsmany meanings and usages as comprehensively as the 70-year-oldcomedian, and few, I imagine, have uttered it with such frequency. From“Fuck Lance Armstrong, fuck Tiger Woods and fuck Dr. Phil,” his openingline at last Saturday’s performance in Burlington, to his graciousfarewell — which, oddly enough, was expletive-free — Carlin expertlythrust and parried his way through an hour’s worth of new material,eloquently wielding the word as if a verbal épée.
In Carlin’s hands, “the queen mother of all swears” is less anobscenity than a tool used to deftly amplify the absurdities ofcontemporary American culture. He was in fine form, surgically flayingsocietal conventions with calculated ferocity. From the pseudo-wisdomof new-age bumper stickers to the illegitimacy of the currentpresidency to the fallacy of religion, no topic was safe, and everyone— and their mother — was fair game.
Like the late Bill Hicks, or even Andy Kaufman, Carlin’s greateststrength is his ability to make his audience squirm. And in between thechuckles and belly laughs, a subtle undercurrent slowly wound its waythrough the aisles of the stately theater: He’s not talking about them,he’s talking about us. In many corners of the theater — including myown — the revelation turned guffaws into gasps. It was brilliant.
Behind Carlin’s veil of blasphemy lies carefully constructed,searing satire. As the adage goes, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Butthere’s another saying, in this case equal in its poignancy: “The truthhurts.” Especially when delivered with a few well-placed curses.
Some artists work in watercolors, others in oils. Some takephotographs, others sketch in pencil or charcoal. George Carlin paintshis portraits in profanity — in particular the “F-Bomb.” And as lastSaturday’s performance unequivocally proved, there are few moments inlife more compelling or satisfying than witnessing a master craftsmanat work.