The death of seven dirty words

George CarlinBack in the ’70s, my friends and I used to enjoy the comedy of George Carlin, who died of heart failure on Sunday, June 22. He was irreverent and represented a lot of what we thought back then.

He started out as a coat and tie comedian in the ’60s, appearing on such fair as The Ed Sullivan Show. He was not run-of-the-mill but he didn’t really stand out either. One of the characters he would play in his routine was the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

“Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued dark tonight, turning to partly light in the morning.”

Fair warning: The content in the links and text below may contain offensive language… which is what made it all the more fun back in the ’70s.

The weatherman was mildly amusing, and typified most of his early routines. But in the ’70s, Carlin shed his coat and tie and seemed to take on the persona of the Hippy Dippy Weatherman –long hair and beard–except the new weatherman was less wasted, was more socially opinionated and conveyed a political consciousness that stood up to the establishment, left or right. As a result, many of his routines were considered too radical, and certainly too hardcore for main stream media. He critiqued society, especially American society for it obsessions, such as its fear of germs: “In prison, before they give you a lethal injection, they swab your arm with alcohol!” And he also pointed out that eating unhealthily leads to overweight people: “Huge piles of redundant protoplasm.” He was over the top and his humor was very crude, usually insulting large sectors of society while he was at it.

But above all, Carlin was a word-meister, and he was most amusing when he talked about language and how some of it is too politically correct or simply didn’t make sense, like legally drunk: “Well if its legal, what’s the fuckin’ problem? Leave my friend alone, officer. He’s legally drunk!” But he was most famous for the Seven dirty words you can’t say on TV: Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits. He later added three more: fart, turd and twat. He talked about the hypocrisy of these TV standards. According to Carlin: Even kids know what a “fart” is–taking a shit without the mess–but you couldn’t use the word on TV. But you could use the word “prick” because it was only a part-time dirty word; you could prick your finger, just don’t finger your prick.

His routines were not for the fainthearted or holier-than-thou crowd, but his humor, in many cases, was simply an expression of a lot of things we had thought of before with new twists, which is what made it so funny. Sadly, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC announced on June 18, four days before he died, that they would award Carlin the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in November. I’m sorry that this award will be awarded posthumously.