George Carlin would have been 78 years old today, and this seems like a great time to look back on some of his best routines. He was a revolutionary comic whose sharp critiques of censorship and organized religion have influenced political and comedic thought for decades. He targeted the orthodoxy and the establishment, always with remarkable success. These Carlin routines showcase him at his best…
Baseball And Football
Throughout the routine, Carlin notes the differences between the two sports — “baseball is played in the spring, when all the plants are coming to life; football is played in the fall, when everything is dying” — making it clear that they couldn’t be more dissimilar. It’s a classic bit that he re-worked several times over the years (the above clip is from 1990) without ever altering the core hypothesis.
The Ten Commandments
From his 2001 album Complaints and Grievances, this was not the first time Carlin commented on religion, but it might be his best routine on the subject, as he takes on the Ten Commandments and reduces them rather quickly, ultimately leaving us with a mere two commandments:
1. Thou shalt be faithful to the provider of thy nookie.
2. Thou shalt try really really hard not to kill anyone.
He leaves us with one bonus rule, as well: Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.
A Place For My Stuff
Your house is really just a place to keep your stuff. That’s the central thesis of this Carlin routine, which is one of the most famous. This is probably his best takedown of our materialistic culture, as he says with great contempt that the meaning of life is to find a place for your stuff. Essentially, our possessions are what define us, and rather than explicitly say how sad that can be, he lets that point speak for itself by chronicling humankind’s desperate attempt to gather as much stuff as possible.
The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television
Yes, this bit — easily Carlin’s most famous — had to show up here. Carlin was not the first person to discuss the words that were taboo in American society (don’t forget Lenny Bruce), but few ever explored our society’s need to censor certain words in such an eloquent fashion. As he discusses the seven words — Stephen Colbert described them as “poopy,” “tinkle,” “intercourse,” “cho-cho,” “oral enthusiast,” “father,” and “dodgeballs” — it works so well because of the matter-of-fact way he presents it. He’s not doing this to shock our senses, but rather to ask us why these words, which are not inherently worse than any other word or phrases in the English language, are held in such contempt.
His Take On The Death Penalty
After noting that capital punishment will only deter people who are afraid to die, Carlin gives us his plan to expand the death penalty in radical new ways. Not only does he want to go bring back crucifixions, he wants them to be naked. And broadcast live. Once a week. During Monday Night Football. The bloodthirst that Carlin displays in this bit is a pitch-perfect parody of those who wish to expand the death penalty to include as many types of criminals as possible.
Finally, The Eerily Prophetic Bit At The Beginning Of His Last Album…
Shortly before his death in 2008, Carlin released his final HBO special, It’s Bad For Ya. The album contains the biting critiques of modern society that had long become expected of him, but it’s particularly notable for the very first line. After a lengthy round of applause, Carlin says, “I’d like to begin by saying f*ck Lance Armstrong,” which earns him a solid bit of laughter and applause. To put this in perspective, Armstrong was still largely beloved by the American public at this time. He had yet to be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and he was seen as an American hero. But Carlin has none of it, chastising him for his balls, his bicycles, and, most notably, his steroids. These days, Armstrong’s steroid use is a known fact, but it was merely a rumor at this point. Of course, Carlin never had any problem taking shots at someone the rest of the country loved, but what makes this bit fascinating is how much public opinion has come around to agreeing with Carlin’s side. When he follows that up with “and f*ck Tiger Woods, too,” it’s hard to not look at him and assume that he was something of a prophet.
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