Everyone loves a person who makes you laugh, and you naturally mourn when a comedian passes away. George Carlin made a lot of people laugh with his observational humor, and we're saddened by the loss. But the media appreciations of Carlin hail him for his daring in "crossing the line" of good taste. This was not something to be celebrated.
The nation's top newspapers added some depth. Paul Farhi in The Washington Post noted two Carlin comic personalities. There was Gentle George, the absurdist who made fun of language, even the sound of words like "yogurt." He was riotous fun. Then came Angry George, the one who "sprayed comic acid on whatever moved across the front page."
"Sprayed comic acid" is a perfect turn of phrase. In the early decades of television, comedians were "insulting," but that word necessarily must contain the quotation marks. Think of Don Rickles during the Dean Martin roasts. He savaged his targets mercilessly, and the more "insulting" the broadside, the more his victim (and his audience) roared with laughter. Rickles didn't mean a word of it.
But Carlin came armed with insults that were meant to wound. He meant to pulverize politeness into dust.
Gentle George came first, with his goofy Hippy-Dippy Weatherman, with this overnight forecast: "Continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning." But he began to hate the "conservative people" who liked this "superficial" humor. Angry George became the voice of the American counterculture that loved to pick a fight on the "Seven Dirty Words" and derived great joy in offending.
Carlin's 2004 book was titled "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" In an interview on NBC, Carlin recounted how "it offends all three major religions, plus the vegetarians. So there's a bonus in there." A eulogist in USA Today warmly noted that no one should "go all sappy and commit the sin" that Carlin the religion-mocker has "joined some celestial Friars Club in the sky."
But it wasn't just religious people that Carlin loathed. Carlin sounded like he hated everyone. One of his last HBO specials was called "Life Is Worth Losing," a sour rebuttal to Bishop Fulton Sheen's old TV show "Life is Worth Living." He "joked" of an "All Suicide Channel" on cable TV, and how you could talk stupid humans to jump into the Grand Canyon during sweeps periods. The original title was slated to be "I Like It When A Lot of People Die." He was talked out of that title once after 9/11, and again after Hurricane Katrina.