The New York Times obituary captured how Angry George went seriously awry. Carlin's celebrated "Seven Dirty Words" routine came in the 1970s, but from the 1990s forward, Carlin became "the comedy circuit's most splenetic curmudgeon, raging over the shallowness of a 'me first' culture," even mocking baby boomers "who went from 'do your thing' to 'just say no' " and "from cocaine to Rogaine."
That last line is especially odd, considering Carlin overcame a cocaine addiction. Apparently, the Rogaine line was just too clever for him to bow to any of his own life experience. Is a transition from cocaine to Rogaine really a step backward?
But this was nothing compared to several "jokes" he unspooled in 1999. He mocked the response to the massacre at Columbine High School: "The artificial weeping in this country, this nationwide mourning for dead people ... and these ribbons and these teddy bears and these little places where they put notes to dead people and all this s-t [are] embarrassing and unnecessary, and it just shows how ... emotionally immature the American people as a class are."
He even displayed an appetite for terrorism: "The very idea that you can set off a bomb in a marketplace and kill several hundred people is exciting and stimulating, and I see it as a form of entertainment Airport security is a stupid idea, it's a waste of money, and it's only there for one reason: to make white people feel safe."
These lines were not designed for laughs: They're not funny. They will probably not make the highlight reels when the Kennedy Center awards Carlin their Mark Twain prize for humor in November. So why laud them for "making people think"? People ought to think twice when they honor a man for being an "icon of free speech."
In the sad final analysis, Carlin betrayed the promise of the hippie counterculture, that the establishment would be wiped away, and only love and peace would remain. He joked that inside every cynic is a disappointed idealist. But hunting for idealism in Carlin's late work would be a search for a blade of hay in a large mountain of needles. In the end, George Carlin was a comedic genius who lost his sense of humor.