He was the father of pop culture as well:
Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
He was 21 the year I was born. He was too old to trust by 1967, and was still one of the seminal voices of the Beat generation.
Carlin began his standup comedy act in the late 1950s and made his first television solo guest appearance on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1965. At that time, he was primarily known for his clever wordplay and reminiscences of his Irish working-class upbringing in New York.
But from the outset there were indications of an anti-establishment edge to his comedy. Initially, it surfaced in the witty patter of a host of offbeat characters like the wacky sportscaster Biff Barf and the hippy-dippy weatherman Al Sleet. “The weather was dominated by a large Canadian low, which is not to be confused with a Mexican high. Tonight’s forecast . . . dark, continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.”
Do you remember his character as Marlo Thomas' agent in "That Girl"? How about "With Six You Get Egg Roll"? Neither do I.
By the end of (the Sixties), he was one of America’s best known comedians. He made more than 80 major television appearances during that time, including the Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show; he was also regularly featured at major nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas.
That early success and celebrity, however, was as dinky and hollow as a gratuitous pratfall to Mr. Carlin. “I was entertaining the fathers and the mothers of the people I sympathized with, and in some cases associated with, and whose point of view I shared,” he recalled later, as quoted in the book “Going Too Far” by Tony Hendra, which was published in 1987. “I was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie.”
So he rebooted. As "counter-culture".
In 1970, Mr. Carlin discarded his suit, tie, and clean-cut image as well as the relatively conventional material that had catapulted him to the top. Mr. Carlin reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine that, according to one critic, was steeped in “drugs and bawdy language.” There was an immediate backlash. The Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas terminated his three-year contract, and, months later, he was advised to leave town when an angry mob threatened him at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned the nightclub circuit and began appearing at coffee houses, folk clubs and colleges where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.
(Arrested by Milwaukee police in 1972, after reciting the "Seven Words".)
By 1972, when he released his second album, “FM & AM,” his star was again on the rise. The album, which won a Grammy Award as best comedy recording, combined older material on the “AM” side with bolder, more acerbic routines on the “FM” side. Among the more controversial cuts was a routine euphemistically entitled “Shoot,” in which Mr. Carlin explored the etymology and common usage of the popular idiom for excrement. The bit was part of the comic’s longer routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” which appeared on his third album “Class Clown,” also released in 1972.
“There are some words you can say part of the time. Most of the time ‘ass’ is all right on television,” Mr. Carlin noted in his introduction to the then controversial monologue. “You can say, well, ‘You’ve made a perfect ass of yourself tonight.’ You can use ass in a religious sense, if you happen to be the redeemer riding into town on one — perfectly all right.”
The material seems innocuous by today’s standards, but it caused an uproar when broadcast on the New York radio station WBAI in the early ’70s. The station was censured and fined by the FCC. And in 1978, their ruling was supported by the Supreme Court, which Time magazine reported, “upheld an FCC ban on ‘offensive material’ during hours when children are in the audience.” Mr. Carlin refused to drop the bit and was arrested several times after reciting it on stage.
Carlin got even more cynical in the years that followed (probably why I enjoyed him so much) ...
By the ’80s, he was known as a scathing social critic who could artfully wring laughs from a list of oxymorons that ranged from “jumbo shrimp” to “military intelligence.” And in the 1990s and into the 21st century the balding but still pony-tailed comic prowled the stage — eyes ablaze and bristling with intensity — as the circuit’s most splenetic curmudgeon. During his live 1996 HBO special, “Back in Town,” he raged over the shallowness of the ’90s “me first” culture — mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names, sneakers with lights on them, and lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards. Baby boomers, “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ ...from cocaine to Rogaine,” and pro life advocates (“How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”), were some of his prime targets.
He had battled drug and alcohol abuse, as well as heart problems -- including one heart attack and two open heart surgeries -- in recent years, but that hadn't tempered him.
Still, when pushed to explain the pessimism and overt spleen that had crept into his act, he quickly reaffirmed the zeal that inspired his lists of complaints and grievances. “I don’t have pet peeves,” he said, correcting the interviewer. And with a mischievous glint in his eyes, he added, “I have major, psychotic hatreds.”
Now I would like to see a week-long Irish wake, followed by glowing tributes from newsmen and women on all channels, followed by a televised funeral and the flags at Thirty Rock flown at half-mast, please.