Tuesday, June 24, 2008
George Carlin, 1937-2008
There's a scene in The Seven Little Foys where Bob Hope and Jimmy Cagney, as Eddie Foy and George M. Cohan, are having a dance contest. Cagney does a particular step and Hope says, "I did that first."
Cagney replies, "Yeah, but I did it right."
That's how I feel about Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Bruce swore on stage first. Carlin really made it funny.
Carlin had an advantage over Bruce. He was funny before he started swearing. There's a great documentary about Lenny Bruce that shows some of his act before profanity. It was amazingly lame, a collection of stale old mother in law jokes.
Here's a line of Carlin's back when his act was clean, playing a sportscaster pressed for time: "...and the scores from around the league 8 to 5, 7 to 3, 6 to 4, and a partial score in from the west coast, Los Angeles 5."
Now that's funny.
Carlin had another advantage over Bruce. Being first, the authorities came down on Lenny Bruce very hard, and the persecution destroyed him. Bruce's act near the end of his life, if you can call it an act, seemed like paranoid ramblings, but it's not paranoia when cops around the country were coming into nightclubs with the express intention of arresting a foul mouthed entertainer. Carlin was arrested a few times, but the cops gave up on trying to arrest every swearing comedian by then.
Unlike many cutting edge comedians, George Carlin lived long enough to collect Social Security if he so desired, but instead he kept working. His later act combined the counter culture sensibility with a generous helping of ALL YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN, but he could still find the funny. As foul mouthed comedy had become an institution, Kevin Smith, one of the best of the rude and funny people working today, gave Carlin frequent work in his films. My favorite role of Carlin's is as Cardinal Ignatius Glick in 1999's Dogma, talking about the new Catholic church and introducing the Buddy Christ statue. Here's hoping the cheerful Savior is waiting at the Gates for this very funny sinner.
Not that Carlin was completely sold on the existence of the Gates. Just covering all the action here, George. You know, being a pal.
Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, Suriname!
Just three more to get my South America badge.