Remembering George Carlin The comedian, who died of heart failure Sunday at age 71, was a hard man to write an obituary for.
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Remembering George Carlin

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Remembering George Carlin

Remembering George Carlin

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

(Soundbite of music)


Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, Girl Talk. I'm Mike Pesca.


And I'm Rachel Martin. It's Monday, June 23rd. I'm back.

PESCA: Good to have you back. That's not why...

MARTIN: Are you happy?

PESCA: Yeah. That's not why we say girl talk.

MARTIN: No, it's not.

PESCA: We're talking fingernails and relationships.

MARTIN: No. We're going to talk about all kinds of interesting things. None of it's going to be that, but we are going to talk about what I did last weekend. You want to know?

PESCA: Mm-mm. Yeah.

MARTIN: Very exciting for me. I went to a concert. I don't do it often, but I stayed out late, and did so. This was a band that took me back to my eighth-grade year in Idaho. There was a movement. It was called The Waivers.

PESCA: A movement was afoot.

MARTIN: It was - we were the Waivers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Did the rest of us have a different word for waivers?

MARTIN: I don't know what y'all called them.

PESCA: Like New Wavers?

MARTIN: I don't know. Go - something cooler than that. It meant we wore a lot of black and a lot of eyeliner. And we listened to a lot of these guys.

(Soundbite of song "Just like Heaven")

PESCA: (Singing) Show me, show me, show me...

MARTIN: You're ruining it!

PESCA: Or, did it come pre-ruined?

MARTIN: Come on! It's The Cure. Their new album's coming out September this year. I was so excited. I thought I was going to see all kinds of crazy, Goth people.

PESCA: Right.

MARTIN: Instead there were a lot of suburbanites, wearing like khakis, button downs, totally jamming out. it was a little depressing. it was also kind of fun.

PESCA: But were they mopey?

MARTIN: No, everyone was in such a good mood.

PESCA: Did they mope out?

MARTIN: They were psyched. I was looking for depression.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: I was looking for a lot of moroseness. No, everyone was really happy.

PESCA: Did they have crazy hairstyles, defying gravity?

MARTIN: There was some crazy hairstyles defying gravity. There were a few people who really went all out, like black leather and chains, and...

PESCA: Yeah. I don't mind The Cure, but that - by - that guy is not even close to my favorite Robert Smith. I will say that.

MARTIN: Yeah, I know.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Our own NPR's Robert Smith is definitely our favorite.

PESCA: Oh, yeah, he's in the top five, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, that's our Cure dose for the day. We're also going to talk about many other things, though, and not girl talk alone. We're going to talk politics with Politico's John Harris. Barack Obama's kicking off his first, big ad campaign, since clinching the nomination for the Democrats. We'll find out how effective that ad campaign is likely to be.

PESCA: And we'll talk sports with the BPP's Bill Wolff. The Chicago Cubs have the best record in baseball. Bill is a St. Louis Cardinal fan, as is his son Ike, presumably. I don't think Ike's going it alone, being a hated Cubs fan. We'll find out how things are going in the Wolff-Stewart household.

MARTIN: Mm-hm, and that Girl Talk reference, it's a mash-up artist. He probably does talk on occasion. He is definitely not a girl, I've been told. We'll have an Assisted Listen of Girl Talk's new album. All that, plus The Most, and the day's news headlines in just a minute. But first...

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of stand-up comedy routine)

Mr. GEORGE CARLIN (Comedian): I'm keeping him in my thoughts. Where?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARLIN: Where exactly in your thoughts does he fit? In between "my ass hurts in this chair," and "let's (beep) the waitress"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: That is comedian George Carlin sending up one of the cliches people say when someone dies, thereby making himself a tough guy to write an obituary for. The comedian died of heart failure yesterday at 71, after being hospitalized for chest pains.

MARTIN: Carlin's name usually gets said after words like "influential" and "groundbreaking," as well as "subversive" and "counterculture figure." When he started out in the 1950s, Carlin was more known for word play and observational stuff more than anything. After he was established, the anti-establishment stuff took over.

PESCA: Baseball versus football, a place for my stuff, and cats versus dogs, all classics. But the most newsworthy of his routines was Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. That makes it pretty hard for obituary writers, especially those of us in broadcasting. Let's hear what CNN did with that routine.

(Soundbite of TV show "CNN Newsroom")

Mr. CARLIN: Now, that was the original list. (Beep).

Ms. BROOKE ANDERSON (Correspondent, CNN): A word for excretion.

Mr. CARLIN: (Beep).

Ms. ANDERSON: For urination.

Mr. CARLIN: (Beep).

Ms. ANDERSON: For having sex.

Mr. CARLIN: (Beep).

Ms. ANDERSON: For breasts.

Mr. CARLIN: (Beep), (beep), (beep).

Ms. ANDERSON: And three words still so radioactive, we can't even describe them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: No, the last word is not that radioactive! That was part of the routine. It just means boobs. That's funny in its own way, but the real bit was taken much more seriously back in the '70s. Carlin was arrested several times for performing it on stage. And when New York Radio Station, WBAI, aired the bit unbleeped (ph), and without - word for urination - the FCC slapped the station with a fine, sparking a landmark indecency case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

MARTIN: The Grammy-winning comedian did more than stand up, though, showing up on the big screen in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," "The Prince of Tides," and as a voice in the Pixar flick, "Cars." He was a host of the first ever "Saturday Night Live." He had a short-lived sitcom on Fox, and showed up as the narrator of the children's show, "Thomas the Tank Engine," some of his finest work. He also wrote three best-selling books.

PESCA: And among the things he didn't do, you know all those emails you get with commencement speeches that Carlin supposedly delivered and essays he supposedly wrote?

MARTIN: Mm-hm.

PESCA: You probably will get a bunch of those today. He didn't write any of them. Check his website. He puts it all straight.

MARTIN: Carlin was set to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in November. He stayed busy to the end. Carlin worked last weekend at the New - at the Orleans in Las Vegas, and had dates there through the end of November.

PESCA: We will not say we're keeping him in our thoughts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And we definitely won't be bleeping him in our thoughts, but you know that. Now, let's get some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Matt Martinez.

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