Most people remember George Carlin for flaunting the unspeakable Seven Dirty Words on live television. Sure, he pushed the envelope and paved the way for comics like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Yeah, he was Saturday Night Live’s first guest host in 1975. Of course he was a prolific life-long comedian who put out 25 albums.But what I’m loving today about Carlin is something else.
I was listening to Carlin’s interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and I thought I heard Deepak Chopra talking. Having just returned from traveling for a few months in India, I felt the reverberations of Indian philosophy in his words. He told Terry about his philosophy of molecular connection to all things.
(I’m paraphrasing here) Terry Gross: “Is there anything you do turn to to help provide a sense of meaning… or where you fit in or what are you doing here?”
George Carlin: “Some time ago I figured out with the help of some reading that I can’t recall now that, if it’s true that we’re all from the center of a star, everything atom in each of us from the center of a star, then we’re all from the same thing, and even a coke machine or a cigarette butt on the street in Buffalo are made out of atoms that came from a star. They’ve all been recycled thousands of times as have you and I. So, if that is true, and I am everywhere in the universe, in an extended sense, and therefore, it’s only me out here, so what is there to be afraid of? What is there that needs solace-seeking? Nothing. There’s nothing to be afraid of, because it’s all us. So, I just have that as a backdrop, and I don’t have to go to it or think of it consciously. I’ve kind of accepted the idea that I’m perfectly safe and that life, nature, have waves and troughs, ups and downs, left and right, black and white, night and day, fall and winter, positive and negative. Everything has an opposite. If I have a bad time, I’ll have a good time coming. If it’s a good time, I’m prepared to have a bad time to sort of pay for it. So, nothing really upsets me.”
Terry Gross: “…It’s kind of like a mix of narcissism and mysticism.”
George Carlin: “The trouble is, we’ve been separated from being that universe by being born we’ve been given a name and an identity and being individuated and separated from the oneness, and that’s what religion exploits…”
I saw Carlin for the first time on HBO’s Comic Relief. When all the other eight year old girls were devouring Ramona Quimby, Age 8 books I was voraciously taking in Comic Relief over and over again, laughing at jokes I didn’t yet understand.
I loved the sketches Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Billy Crystal did. There was a parade of comedians… Gary Shandling, Tony Danza (who told a street joke about the farmer and his favorite three-legged pig.) Sid Caesar did some physical comedy.
And then there was Carlin’s routine on Stuff. With his five minutes, he packed in more jokes than most comics at clubs today. This quintessential rant on our attachment to the physical stuff that makes us feel at Home was truly brilliant.
He talked a mile a minute, he nailed every neurosis, and hit every emotional note with masterful facial punctuation. It somehow spoke to my inner cranky old guy in mid-life crisis. My parents are sort of packrats and junk-recycling artists, and whenever we traveled, it seemed we’d take enough extra stuff to set up an entire household on vacation.
This was the first time someone had taken my childhood thoughts and feelings about my parents junk-collecting and how out of control I felt, and encapsulated them into short bursts of hilarious insight in that inimitable comedian way of “saying what we’re all thinking.”
Listening to him gave me that sense of connectedness and oneness that Carlin talks about with Terry. And, along with Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, George Carlin was one of the first deeply imprinted artistic influences that made me say, “That’s what I want to do.”