I turned on the TV this
morning only to hear that one of my favorite comedians, George
Carlin, had died at the age of 71, apparently from a heart attack.
I was stunned and very saddened.
I feel as if I have grown
up with George Carlin. Always irreverent, one could always count
on George Carlin to challenge his listeners on a host of issues.
He could sound like a Black man, yet I never felt condescended
to through his mannerisms or comedy, in part because he seemed
to ‘get’ so much about the construction of race in the USA.
I was always worried that
Carlin would die before his time. His life was something akin
to a high speed “Funny Car “ that takes off and can blow up
before it reaches the finish line (as happened, quite ironically,
this past weekend in a race). Carlin led the fast life and worked
his body over. Alcohol, cocaine plus an intense schedule certainly
shortened his life. Yet, George Carlin did not quite seem to
age. Certainly he aged physically, but there was something almost
eternally youthful about him.
In a segment of a past
interview broadcast upon his death this morning, Carlin noted
that he always judged the line in terms of what was acceptable
comedy, and then made a conscious effort to cross it! This was
the quintessential Carlin. Whether
in his discussions of race, war, the rich, or sex, Carlin made
no attempt to provide comfort for his audience. He wanted his
listeners to laugh, but he certainly wanted them to think.
courage to cross that line is what made him not only a comedian
but an expert political satirist. No wonder he was the recipient
of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, an
honored bestowed on him just before his passing.
I will certainly miss George
Carlin. There was a rare niche that he and comedians such as
Richard Pryor have occupied, a niche that is very difficult
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior
Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of the just released book,
Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the
crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.