Monday morning, when I heard that George Carlin died, the first thing I thought of was a sleepover at a friend’s house back in 1981 or maybe 82.
My friend, who, I know, reads this blog on occasion, was the kid who had the first video game, a Bally system – far ahead of its time, by the way – and sweet cable TV and HBO. (I was a so-called “country kid” whose house was far out of cable’s tantalizing reach.) And it was at his house, during that sleepover, that I first saw a Carlin HBO special. It was just about the funniest thing I’d ever seen.
“His performing voice, even laced with profanity, always sounded as if he were trying to amuse a child. It was like the naughtiest, most fun grown-up you ever met was reading you a bedtime story,” Jerry Seinfeld wrote in the New York Times Tuesday. He nailed it. That’s exactly how it was.
Carlin was just one piece of a comedy awakening my friends and I went through around that time. Richard Pryor was out there, and I can’t count how many times we sat around listening to Eddie Murphy cassettes, or mimicking memorized routines.
But I still remember Carlin first, prowling the stage, telling us all the ways the grown-up world was totally fake and (screwed) up. We probably already knew most of the famous “seven words,” but we were only too glad to learn them all.
Back in March I caught his last HBO gig and I felt the same way, even though I’m firmly entrenched in the (screwed) up world now. I owe something to Carlin for the fact that I manage to laugh more than scream.