RIP George Carlin

Irreverent comedian George Carlin died yesterday. His “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” comedy routine featured on his 1972 album Class Clown brought the issue of indecency to the Supreme Court and later defined acceptable free speech in America. Carlin was arrested after performing the routine in Milwaukee in 1973; a judge ruled that his routine was indecent but protected by the First Amendment. When the words were later aired on New York’s WBAI, a legal ldispute resulted in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling upholding the government’s authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language during hours when children might be listening.

Carlin, who was arrested several more times for performing “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” went on to act (The Prince of Tides, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dogma), host television programs (he was Saturday Night Live‘s first host) and one-man shows on HBO, release 23 comedy albums (he won four Grammy awards), and write three books, including Brain Droppings. No subject was taboo for George Carlin. He talked about religion, sex, fat people, war, rape and politics in the same act. Like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, Carlin’s offcolor, politically incorrect humor pushed the envelope. His satirical musings were so much more than rants; he made people laugh and think. Though this counterculture icon was skeptical about religion and politics, he wasn’t a nihilist. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

George Carlin on America