The Day Carlin Died

We were two people away from meeting Christopher Titus. My wife and I had just waited for about 30 minutes after his latest comedy show to meet with him and tell him how much we liked and appreciated his comedy. And the closer we got, the giddier my wife became. Maybe she was a little star-struck or maybe it was one too many overpriced margaritas at the Ontario Improv that encouraged the behavior, but when we met Titus, she started talking about the huge influence that stand-up comedy had on my work and how it was mainly George Carlin that inspired my love of language. And then… My wife proceeded to recite one of the most vulgar lines ever exclaimed in a George Carlin routine, to one of my current and favorite stand-up comics and his fiancé, “You know what people don’t talk about any more *********”. No, even I won’t say it here.  The point being that, even 6 years after passing, George Carlin was still having an effect on my life and still getting us to Watch our Language.

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Child development professionals will tell you that in order to ensure that a kid grows up with a good vocabulary and good speech skills, that they need to be exposed to a linguistically rich environment from a very young age- the problem is that no one really talked in my family. There was verbal communication, but it was the bare minimum and usually a pretty consistent recycling of the same words and phrases that sounded like nothing more than some guttural grunts and groans by the time I was 8. The only exception to this pattern was my dad’s penchant for telling jokes and saying things that most others would deem inappropriate. But for a young male, this made me view my dad as someone who was cool and it inevitably made me feel special for sharing such taboo jokes with me at such a young age. So, while my dad might have planted the seeds for what would eventually grow into a genuine love of language, it was at the ripe old age of 13, when my dad brought home a cassette tape of George Carlin’s notorious comedy album “Class Clown” that guaranteed that that love would not only grow, but blossom.

Before “Class Clown”, I had been sufficiently familiarized with the self-deprecating humor of Rodney Dangerfield and the verbal limericks of Dr. Demento, but Carlin’s comedy was different; it was smart, it was funny, it was taboo, and it was personal. I found myself bobbing and weaving along with his routine the same way an audiophile might bop their head the to beat of their favorite music. Suffice it to say, when my dad brought that tape home, he never got it back and I started saving up to buy everyone of Carlin’s albums for fear of missing out on that hilarious joke, intellectual insight, or the face reddening taboo comment, not unlike the one told to Titus by my lovely wife.

This new-found love of comedy and language bordered on obsession for many years, especially when exploring Carlin’s backlog of 30 years of comedy, along with any other comics that were adjacently humorous. Inadvertently, I openly exposed myself to over 30 years of language development from listening to the speech pattern and near melodious phrases and jokes of the 60 and 70’s to the more stale and bawdy humor of more contemporary comedy.

While the conscious practice of listening to comedy was the constant search for a laugh to offset the general discontent of my life at that time; the subconscious byproduct improved my writing and reading skills, which continued until my early 20’s and ultimately led me to pursue an English degree in college, with the hopes of teaching and influencing others to love and appreciate the language through humor.

George Carlin’s work continued to play a part in my life throughout my early adult years, reading his books, listening to his albums and at one point, I even tried publishing a comedy book that attempted to emulate his style, but the book proposal was turned down; it was pretty bad to be honest. But the culmination of all of this took place when I was finally able to see Carlin in concert during his “Life is Worth Losing” tour, as a birthday gift from my wife and not long after, was able to meet the man in person and talk with him during one of his book tours.

The final day of this journey was June 22, 2008. I had just finished my second year as a high school English teacher and was reporting to duty for summer school, the prime arena to try and entertain a bunch of hormone imbalanced adolescents in a 5 hour stretch of class time. I pulled into my parking space, took one more swig of coffee and was about to take the key out of the ignition when from the radio I heard, “Comedian George Carlin has passed away at the age of 71”. My brain immediately entered a state of paralysis, refusing to let my body move, but also refusing to let my synapses fully process the new information and then my phone rang. The new stimuli allowed my body to react without conscious thought. I answered the phone to the sound of my wife’s sniffled voice, “Did you hear the news?” And with all breath and no vocal cord, I weakly responded, “yes”.  I don’t remember what was said after that moment, just that we cried together for a good 5 minutes before gathering my wits and my things before setting off to class.

I despise the thought of idolizing or even the practice of calling someone your hero, I do however, endorse the idea of finding and pursuing mentors- someone who inspires, motivates and teaches. And perhaps this is what I was shedding a tear over. Aside from my father and two very influential college teachers, no one has had the long-lasting impact that George Carlin’s work had on me. And even though it’s been 9 years since he’s passed away, or as he would have said, died, kicked the bucket, pushed up daisies, expired, or experienced a therapeutic misadventure; he is very much alive in all of my work philosophies and pursuit of truth in language while doing my damnedest to get a laugh in the process.

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