Monday, June 23, 2008

OBT: George Carlin!

This is a huge chunk of childhood, and formative years, and personal thought processing, and just a part of my being gone . . .

Comedian George Carlin dies at 71
Anti-Establishment icon gained fame with his ‘Seven Dirty Words’ routine
BREAKING NEWS, updated 48 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES - Comedian George Carlin, a counter-culture hero famed for his routines about drugs and dirty words, died of heart failure at a Los Angeles-area hospital on Sunday, a spokesman said. He was 71.

Carlin, who had a history of heart and drug-dependency problems, died at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica about 6 p.m. PDT after being admitted earlier in the afternoon for chest pains, spokesman Jeff Abraham told Reuters.

Known for his edgy, provocative material, Carlin achieved status as an anti-Establishment icon in the 1970s with stand-up bits full of drug references and a routine called “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” A regulatory battle over a radio broadcast of the routine ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the 1978 case, Federal Communications Commission vs. Pacifica Foundation, the top U.S. court ruled that the words cited in Carlin’s routine were indecent, and that the government’s broadcast regulator could ban them from being aired at times when children might be listening.

Carlin’s comedic sensibility often came back to a central theme: humanity is doomed.

“I don’t have any beliefs or allegiances. I don’t believe in this country, I don’t believe in religion, or a god, and I don’t believe in all these man-made institutional ideas,” he told Reuters in a 2001 interview.

Carlin, who wrote several books and performed in many television comedy specials, is survived by his wife Sally Wade, and daughter Kelly Carlin McCall.

Comedian George Carlin dies at 71
Anti-establishment icon gained fame with his ‘Seven Dirty Words’ routine

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - George Carlin, the frenzied performer whose routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” led to a key Supreme Court ruling on obscenity, has died.

Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died later that evening, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He had performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. He was 71.

“He was a genius and I will miss him dearly,” Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in the early 1960s, told The Associated Press.

Carlin’s jokes constantly breached the accepted boundaries of comedy and language, particularly with his routine on the “Seven Words” — all of which are taboo on broadcast TV and radio to this day.

When he uttered all seven at a show in Milwaukee in 1972, he was arrested on charges of disturbing the peace, freed on $150 bail and exonerated when a Wisconsin judge dismissed the case, saying it was indecent but citing free speech and the lack of any disturbance.

When the words were later played on a New York radio station, they resulted in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling upholding the government’s authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language during hours when children might be listening.

“So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I’m perversely kind of proud of,” he told The Associated Press earlier this year.

First host of "Saturday Night Live"
Despite his reputation as unapologetically irreverent, Carlin was a television staple through the decades, serving as host of the “Saturday Night Live” debut in 1975 — noting on his Web site that he was “loaded on cocaine all week long” — and appearing some 130 times on “The Tonight Show.”

He produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a couple of TV shows and appeared in several movies, from his own comedy specials to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in 1989 — a testament to his range from cerebral satire and cultural commentary to downright silliness (and sometimes hitting all points in one stroke).

“Why do they lock gas station bathrooms?” he once mused. “Are they afraid someone will clean them?”

He won four Grammy Awards, each for best spoken comedy album, and was nominated for five Emmy awards. On Tuesday, it was announced that Carlin was being awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which will be presented Nov. 10 in Washington and broadcast on PBS.

Carlin started his career on the traditional nightclub circuit in a coat and tie, pairing with Burns to spoof TV game shows, news and movies. Perhaps in spite of the outlaw soul, “George was fairly conservative when I met him,” said Burns, describing himself as the more left-leaning of the two. It was a degree of separation that would reverse when they came upon Lenny Bruce, the original shock comic, in the early ’60s.

“We were working in Chicago, and we went to see Lenny, and we were both blown away,” Burns said, recalling the moment as the beginning of the end for their collaboration if not their close friendship. “It was an epiphany for George. The comedy we were doing at the time wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, and George knew then that he wanted to go in a different direction.”

That direction would make Carlin as much a social commentator and philosopher as comedian, a position he would relish through the years.

Taking on 'obscenity'
“The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things — bad language and whatever — it’s all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition,” Carlin told the AP in a 2004 interview. “There’s an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. ... It’s reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have.”

Carlin was born on May 12, 1937, and grew up in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, raised by a single mother. After dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, he joined the Air Force in 1954. He received three court-martials and numerous disciplinary punishments, according to his official Web site.

While in the Air Force he started working as an off-base disc jockey at a radio station in Shreveport, La., and after receiving a general discharge in 1957, took an announcing job at WEZE in Boston.

“Fired after three months for driving mobile news van to New York to buy pot,” his Web site says.

From there he went on to a job on the night shift as a deejay at a radio station in Fort Worth, Texas. Carlin also worked variety of temporary jobs including a carnival organist and a marketing director for a peanut brittle.

Getting his break on Jack Paar
In 1960, he left with Burns, a Texas radio buddy, for Hollywood to pursue a nightclub career as comedy team Burns & Carlin. He left with $300, but his first break came just months later when the duo appeared on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show.”

Carlin said he hoped to emulate his childhood hero, Danny Kaye, the kindly, rubber-faced comedian who ruled over the decade Carlin grew up in — the 1950s — with a clever but gentle humor reflective of the times.

It didn’t work for him, and the pair broke up by 1962.

“I was doing superficial comedy entertaining people who didn’t really care: Businessmen, people in nightclubs, conservative people. And I had been doing that for the better part of 10 years when it finally dawned on me that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things for the wrong people,” Carlin reflected recently as he prepared for his 14th HBO special, “It’s Bad For Ya.”

Eventually Carlin lost the buttoned-up look, favoring the beard, ponytail and all-black attire for which he came to be known.

But even with his decidedly adult-comedy bent, Carlin never lost his childlike sense of mischief, even voicing kid-friendly projects like episodes of the TV show “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends” and the spacey Volkswagen bus Fillmore in the 2006 Pixar hit “Cars.”

Carlin’s first wife, Brenda, died in 1997. He is survived by wife Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law Bob McCall; brother Patrick Carlin; and sister-in-law Marlene Carlin.

Carlin's 'seven words' have lost their sting
None of the terms are alien to cable; only one retains power to shock
The Associated Press, updated 6:12 p.m. CT, Mon., June. 23, 2008

NEW YORK - More than 30 years after George Carlin pronounced “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television,” some of those words have lost their sting.

Some of those words still aren’t welcome on the public airwaves (or, for that matter, in print) and they are still being debated in the courts.

But you can hear those words voiced in everyday discourse more than ever.

Carlin, who died Sunday at age 71, observed in his routine: “We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we’re stuck with that word for that thought — so be careful with words.”

Good advice.

Carlin’s seven words, he would caution ironically, “are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.”

Or course, times — and wars — have changed. At least one of Carlin’s words (a rude term for urine) wouldn’t raise an eyebrow on much of broadcast TV now.

Meanwhile, none of them is alien to premium cable. For many viewers, hearing those Words You Can’t Say On Television being said on television helps make pay cable worth paying for.

Those words were heard on television in 1977, on Carlin’s first HBO comedy special.

They fall into predictable categories: bodily waste; sexual acts (both socially acceptable and frowned upon); and female body parts.

“When he used those words he wasn’t just trying to shock,” said Richard Zoglin, who wrote about Carlin in his recent book, “Comedy at the Edge: How Standup in the 1970s Changed America.”

“He was trying to make a statement that’s familiar today, but wasn’t so familiar back then: ’Why do we have this irrational fear of words?”’

Of this Magnificent Seven, only one, which refers to the female anatomy, retains the power to jolt nearly anyone within earshot. On an HBO sitcom a couple of years ago, the angry husband used this word to insult his wife. It nearly wrecked their marriage. More tellingly, the studio audience emitted an audible gasp.

No swearing during World War II!
Premium cable, and even basic cable, have far more freedom with content than broadcast programming, which is carried on public airwaves by stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.

For broadcast, The Words are actually words the FCC says can’t be heard before 10 p.m. — when the “safe harbor” for young viewers applies. But exactly what those words are, and under what circumstances they may be permissible, is currently unclear.

“The networks are being careful, because even in this kind of flux, you don’t want to push too far,” said T. Barton Carter, Boston University professor of communications and law. “Vagueness and inconsistencies in regulation can have a chilling effect on broadcasters.”

The picture is further muddied by the fact that 80 to 90 percent of viewers get all their programming (from broadcast stations as well as cable networks) through their cable or satellite subscription, Carter added. Different indecency standards apply to channels whose difference is often undetectable to the audience.

The uncertain regulatory climate led to PBS distributing two versions of the Ken Burns documentary series “The War” last fall. Stations could choose the original version, or opt for a sanitized version of World War II, one that was free of any Words You’d Be Safer Not Saying On Television.

The FCC changed its policy on indecency following a January 2003 broadcast of the Golden Globes awards show by NBC when U2 lead singer Bono uttered the phrase “f------ brilliant.” The FCC said the “f-word” in any context “inherently has a sexual connotation” and can trigger enforcement.” That case has yet to be resolved.

Recently the U.S Supreme Court has entered a legal fight over curse words aired by Fox in 2002 and 2003 on the live broadcasts of “The Billboard Music Awards.” Cher used the phrase, “F--- ’em.” And Nicole Richie said, “Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f------ simple.”

Scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court this fall, the case would decide whether the government can ban “fleeting expletives,” one-time uses of familiar but profane words.

Dropping an “f-bomb” on a broadcast won’t automatically blast open the floodgates, said Tim Winter, president of Parents Television Council, but he warned, “It’s a slow accumulation. First it’s once every several months. Then it becomes once a month. Then it becomes once a night.”

“That’s our concern for some of the words that are at issue here,” said Winter, who’s also an avowed George Carlin fan: “It’s unfortunate that a brilliant comedian like George Carlin is a poster child for the lawsuits that are out there.”

Carlin’s razor-sharp humor was universal
Comedian was part observational guru, part social critic, and a bit dopey
COMMENTARY By Michael Ventre, MSNBC contributor, updated 10:46 a.m. CT, Mon., June. 23, 2008

In the realm of stand-up comedy, there is nothing more objectionable than one comic swiping the material of another. It is an industry taboo, which could result in a drink in the face or a prop in the groin.

But kids get to steal for free. I was one of them. And the man I stole from most often was George Carlin.

While other youngsters were occupied with math homework or flipping baseball cards, I was memorizing bits from my favorite comedians and performing them for friends. It was like a traveling nightclub, without alcohol and hecklers. I would pilfer from such notables as Cheech & Chong, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Bill Dana, Redd Foxx, Steve Martin, Nipsey Russell and others. I never got paid, but I never got booed, either.

While all of the material I chose usually got laughs, the Carlin stuff was gold. There was just something about where his mind went that brought about instant glee. He was part observational guru and part social critic, with a good deal of dopey maniac thrown in.

Did you ever notice that the thing you hold onto on the escalator moves just a little bit faster than the steps? He did. I used that. It killed.

Are you familiar with the hippy dippy weatherman’s forecast for tonight? Dark.

George’s comedy was accessible and universal. And there was a lot of it. He had been working the clubs, radio and television, and making recordings for more than 50 years before he passed away Sunday of heart failure. He had an archive of hilarity that was vast and rich, and any self-respecting adolescent or teenager who didn’t steal from him was just looking to be made fun of.

The words we choose say a lot about us. Here is a portion of a speech from an anti-pornography crusader:

“Our thrust is to prick holes in the stiff front erected by the smut dealers. We must keep mounting an offensive to penetrate any crack in his defenses. Let’s get on him. Let’s ram through a stiff bail law so it will be hard for him to get it up. It’ll be hard on us, but we can’t lick it by being soft!”

Believe it or not, I still use that one today.

Seven words you can't say on a family Web site
The one routine that I didn’t hijack from George was the one he is probably most famous for, “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” Unfortunately, all seven can’t be said on a family Web site, either, so I’ll let the YouTube explorers and the Google-meisters look for it directly, or more accurately, the ones who don’t already know it by heart.

That routine set him apart because it was the Lenny Bruce chapter of his life. While Bruce was crusading for his right to say anything he wanted in public and became increasingly bitter as the authorities made his life miserable, Carlin was observing and was even present as an audience member and taken away with Bruce during one arrest.

That was the seasoning his comedy needed to make him the George Carlin we all knew and loved. Before that he had meandered around on TV and in clubs as the goofy nut. Yet quickly his comedy would also take on social relevance.

In 1973, a man complained to the FCC about the “Seven Words” being broadcast on public airwaves. He was worried his son could hear such language. I sometimes fantasize that his son grew up to be Andrew Dice Clay, but I have no proof of that.

The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the FCC could indeed regulate such material on the airwaves. No matter. It was a victory for George in a way because it brought focus to his career and said to the world, “Hey, this guy’s a riot!”

He didn’t absolutely need that, of course. You could just look at him and realize that. He had one of those faces that, when contorted slightly, put you in stitches. He’d raise an eyebrow and you’d chuckle. He’d bug his eyes out in mock surprise and you’d guffaw.

And I would do the same. The same gestures. The same expressions. The same irreverence. I never became a stand-up comedian – one UCLA Extension class with veteran Stanley Myron Handelman (who passed away last August) impressed upon me that it isn’t so easy – but I entertained a lot of schoolmates, and later even some adults.

I do know that there were others like me out there who did go on to have incredible careers in comedy or in a field in which comedy was essential, and George Carlin was the chicken stock from which their silly soup was made. In fact, I would go so far as to say that just about any successful standup who grew up from the 1960s onward had to be impacted in some way by George’s work, either by comedic osmosis or direct heisting of gags.

Bill Cosby was hugely influential as well, but he never courted controversy. He was as bright and as clever as George. He just wasn’t as crazy.

Something tells me that the wild man inside George, the one who indulged in backstage excess as a younger performer, was responsible for his passing too soon. He was only 71. George Burns made it to 100 before he went, and he was cracking lines to the very end.

I wish George could have hung around longer. There are many more customs to be skewered, many more prominent citizens to be lampooned.

There was a freak accident on the highway. Six freaks in a van hit two freaks in a Volkswagen.

Who am I going to steal from now?

Carlin to be first posthumous Twain honoree
Comedian was recently chosen to be the 11th recipient of prestigious award
Reuters, updated 5:42 p.m. CT, Mon., June. 23, 2008

LOS ANGELES - The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts said on Monday it would go ahead with plans to present its Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to the late George Carlin, making him the first comedian so honored posthumously.

Carlin, the counter-culture figure famed for his provocative stand-up routines on such subjects as profanity, drugs and the demise of humankind, died on Sunday at age 71 after complaining of heart problems earlier in the day.

The Kennedy Center had only announced days before that Carlin was selected as the 11th recipient of its prestigious Mark Twain award, an honor bestowed annually at a black-tie gala televised on the Public Broadcasting Service network PBS.

"He was thrilled that he was chosen ... and today was the day we were supposed to talk on the phone about potential guests," said Mark Krantz, an executive producer of the show. "So he was very much into it and was already agreeing to do some press, and we were getting ready to get the nuts and bolts worked out when this terrible thing happened."

After consulting with Carlin's family and PBS, the Kennedy Center decided to go forward with the ceremony as scheduled on November 10. The show, taped at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., will air on PBS at a date to be announced.

Last year's honoree was actor-comedian Billy Crystal. The first in 1998, was Richard Pryor, the only other recipient who is now deceased. Others have included Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, playwright Neil Simon and "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels.

For Carlin's ceremony, producers will stick with the usual format described by Krantz as "a funny celebration of a career," with friends and peers telling stories and anecdotes and introducing clips of his work.

"He has a 50-year career to look back on," Krantz said. "He was the first host of 'Saturday Night Live.' He did 130 Johnny Carson shows, he did 13 or more HBO specials, he's won four Grammys."

The Mark Twain prize is named for the 19th-century novelist, essayist and humorist whose given name was Samuel Clemens, author of such classics as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Contrary to Carlin's cantankerous stage persona, Krantz said the comedian was a "nice guy, and very Mark Twain-like in his observations."

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