Thursday, June 26, 2008

Remembering George Carlin (But Not Too Much)

I haven't had time to comment on George Carlin's passing due to travels and a hectic schedule recently, but I did want to say a few things about him, especially since I've been doing stand-up comedy for a few years and have certainly thought about his style and influence on people like me.

He would have mocked us for thinking about him, remembering him or talking of him in the afterlife. I think Carlin's independence and skepticism stood out more to me than his ranting about society's ills and absurdities. His comedy, at least for me, wasn't always the kind of positive energy I admire in Eddie Izzard, for example, but it was, for better or worse, usually true.

I first encountered Carlin on an HBO special aired sometime in the late 1990s while I was staying up late and unable to sleep. I found him incredibly clever and soon took the opportunity to borrow a copy of his Braindroppings book from a high school friend. I read the rest of his books within a month, but never had a chance to catch-up with a lot of his stand-up until the past year or so and the treasure trove that is YouTube.

Now that I've been performing stand-up for a little while, I can see that Carlin's biggest influence on me is not in the way I tell jokes or the attitude he imparted on several generations - it comes more from his way of thinking and trust in individual reason. Something seems absurd to you? Explore may be right. It's at the foundation of many comedic premises and certainly something most comedians are aware of, but it was the way Carlin's intellect made you laugh and then soaked into your brain to make you think, long after your belly soreness wore off that truly mattered. You remembered his take on the world as you learned about science and religion. Or evolution and psychic claims. Carlin was fiercely independent in his humor and his mind - and he only asked us to do the same.