Somehow, I could feel this coming. In the days following Tim Russert's death a little over a week ago, I repeatedly got this feeling like George Carlin would be soon to follow. I wonder if he got the two-minute warning? I wonder if he'll get blown up? (Listen to "Death and Dying" from Carlin's 1977 album On the Road.)
I can't think of any other single person in popular culture that has done more to influence my sense of humor and personal philosophies than George Carlin. It's strange, really, since I'm nothing like Carlin - I don't use profanity, have never drank or used drugs, and I generally avoid controversy. I've always liked stand-up comedy, however, and Carlin has been my favorite ever since I heard Playin' With Your Head when I was in middle school. (Big thanks to Phil Walters, who borrowed the tape from his brother so he could share it with me and others while we detasseled corn.) I understand those who think Pryor was funnier, but when I think of all the ways Carlin's work has influenced my view of the world, Carlin will always be my #1.
I saw Carlin live back around 2000 and I remember him working from a table of note cards and putting together the beginnings of his suicide routine that eventually ended up being on his 2006 Life Is Worth Losing album. The act was still pretty rough, and disturbing enough that a noticeable number of people left the theater. I didn't see it as insulting; I saw a veteran comedian challenging himself to make something funny that usually isn't funny. I don't know what other comedian could have succeeded, or which ones would even bother to try.
Just a few days ago, George was selected by the Kennedy Center to receive this year's Mark Twain Prize. In what was probably his last public joke he ever told, Carlin issued a statement saying, "Thank you Mr. Twain. Have your people call my people." Better yet, George, go talk to him yourself. It's your next big adventure.