A Toast — Using Every Word — To George Carlin

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George Carlin performing in 1981.

hide captionGeorge Carlin performing in 1981.

Source: Ken Howard/Hulton Archive/Getty

George Carlin was on the air the very first time I walked into a radio station. It was the tiniest, teeniest radio station ever, a tenth of a watt FM run by Peter Michael Hayes, a high school classmate with wealthy parents — Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy — who did a double act on AM radio in New York for many years. As a friend and I delivered a tape we'd produced, one of Carlin's records spun on a turntable. There couldn't have been many at that time, 1967. All I remember is "...and here's a partial score from the west coast: Dodgers 5." Long pause. Laffs.

If memory serves (as it does less and less often) I was signed on as the board operator at WBAI-FM the day that program host Paul Gorman played Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" uncensored, prompting a complaint to the FCC and, eventually, the Supreme Court decision that you can't say them on the radio, either. I was somewhat more involved in the case that changed that: I was the producer at All Things Considered when NPR's Mike Shuster sent in a piece on the trial of John "The Teflon Don" Gotti. The story included excerpts of FBI wiretaps, where the mobster used just one of the seven words, but repeatedly and with considerable vehemence, to threaten an associate. Mike argued, and later the Court agreed, that the usage was not gratuitous or salacious, indeed, that it was critical to the understanding of the story. The one word I edited out of Mike's piece, was "mother." The decision was that sometimes you can use the F word, and by extension the other six, and sometimes you can't. Which is the mess we're in now.

I spoke with George Carlin a few times, but can't say that I knew him at all. He was, needless to say, a terrific guest. He has been there all my life to poke his bony finger at pretension and arrogance, yes, but at the strange and the wonderful, too. He was just as honest about his own mistakes in life - the one thing he was never funny about. I miss him already.

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One of the quotes I remember about Carlin was about Clinton's "It Takes A Village To Raise a Child." No, he said, it takes two parents.

Sent by R. in Macon, Ga. | 3:08 PM | 6-23-2008

The first record (yes, plastic LP!) I ever bought was George Carlin's AM/FM
album. I was 12 at the time.and learned every routine on it. The next year I bought an actual music record, The Rolling Stones, It's Only RocknRoll. Just goes to show my priorities. George Carlin will always be a part of my life.

David Brawley, Santa Rosa CA

Sent by David Brawley | 3:52 PM | 6-23-2008

My absolute favorite Carlin piece was his comparison of football and baseball. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I have always thought that he, more than anyone else, caught the very essence of what makes baseball an elegant game.

Sent by Rita | 3:57 PM | 6-23-2008

George Carlin was one of the most controversial comedians. I have owned many of his albums as well as 2 of his books. He never held back and wasn't afraid of what people thought and said. he was knowledgeable and was truely one of the greatest comedy. His role in mult. movies also were fitting, Bill and Ted, the Jay and Silent Bob, as well as Dogma!

Sent by KC Trudeau | 3:58 PM | 6-23-2008

Listening to the beginning of your segment about George Carlin on my way back to work, I remembered the day that my mother found my 45rpm record (yes, I'm that old - pre-cassette, not to mention CD) of "Al Sleet, Your Hippy Dippy Weather Man." She was so upset!! I guess she thought I was going to run right out and buy drugs or something. Looking back, I suppose I'm a bit surprised it didn't become "accidentally" broken, but it didn't and I enjoyed listening to it for years. Carlin had a way of looking at the world that was fresh and unfettered by convention. He will be missed!

Sent by Laurel DenHartog (pronounced den-HAR-tog) | 3:58 PM | 6-23-2008

George Carlin cracked me up! As a little boy, I would sneak down to the TV after my bedtime. It was a true skill to remain quiet as I giggled! No HBO re-run of his was less funny. I tried and tried to record it with my little cassette player. I even used his football/baseball joke to write my 5th grade comparison/contrast paper. The priest bought it all the way.
I hope that doesn't make me a hack!
To this day, I share a fascination with words, as a result of listening to George Carlin.
Thank you George Carlin!

Sent by J. Fritts | 5:51 PM | 6-23-2008

For me he was a big influence. I think that watching one of his specials when I was around 13 or so made me think about things in a different light and much differently than is typical for Western Kentucky. Then a few years later when HBO aired all of his specials up to that point over a week I drove everybody crazy because I kept quoting them all week. What really amazed me was that he could be that successful saying things that he did which would kill the career of most. People think it's offensive now but back in the day he was really way beyond what anybody else had to balls to say. He was also consistently brilliant over several decades and had multiple styles such as the goofy, fucking around with the English language, political/philosophical, and just plain pissed off and dark.

Sent by Steven Dudley | 6:05 PM | 6-23-2008

As a Catholic, I appreciate that, when he rejected Church's teachings, he had the decency to leave. Would anti-life politicians do the same.

Well, now I will spend the rest of my life looking at people's roofs for George's soul. If you know what joke I'm alluding to, 10 bonus points.

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 8:18 PM | 6-23-2008

I listened to his albums as a pre-teen in the late sixties/early seventies over and over with my best friend and the 'gang.' Us girls studied him without really knowing we were studying. His humor of course, his take on things, his wonderful inflections, his impeccable timing, so much. That our parents allowed this was rather neat, too. He's been part of my life since i was single digits.

Off you you George. Irreverent to the end, who freakin' knows if 'we'll see ya again'.. would be cool! but, hey - ya had a grand ride. I'm glad I was around for it.

Sent by Mary Julia | 8:57 PM | 6-23-2008

Like Frank Zappa, George Carlin had an ability to present us with keen observations of how routine, everyday situations and the people that were involved in them could be shown to be oxymoronic, hyperbolic and simply ridiculously funny when viewed through the properly focused lens of comedic perception. Or you could just curse loudly over the air at the FCC. He catered to a range of intellects, and never missed the bullseye of the obvious.

Sent by Michael Neal | 12:12 AM | 6-24-2008

George Carlin was an icon for freedom of speech and individuality. He said what he wanted to and fought for that right with his comedy. He was the best at what he did and brought smiles to our faces while doing it.

Sent by Mark Bartholomew | 1:26 AM | 6-24-2008

I had the pleasure of seeing George perform in Chicago in the mid-1970's. I had never before laughed so hard and long, nor since. My laughter was so intense, my jaw muscles were sore! Everyone in the audience was having this great experience. George was a bona fide iconoclast who made us laugh. What more could anyone want?

Sent by Philip Vater | 7:45 AM | 6-24-2008

An ex-midwesterner, I married into a family in Mexico. I recently mentioned to my 13 yr old stepdaughter Geo Carlin's name since she derives pleasure from irreverant humor. For the last four weeks, we have been bombarded with his material gleaned from the Web, he was a hit to her and her mom. In this house, Carlin is a new and vital presence!

Sent by Lance | 9:52 AM | 6-25-2008

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