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George Carlin: An inadequate appreciation

I’m a little too young to have been around for George Carlin’s body-switch from straight-man nightclub comic playing for crowds of businessmen to the black-clad ponytailed firebreather who turned in the Seven Dirty Words routine; that happened a few years before I was born, meaning I could only hear about it and experience it in the past tense, like some sort of bizarre history lesson.

By the time I got around to Carlin (via cassettes given to me by my parents, which was kind of awesome), I’d say, the terrifying-of-the-establishment bit he’d pulled off to such world-changing acclaim in the early 1970s was part of the comic past rather than the comic now, something that, it seemed to me, had achieved a post-mortem approval from the very people he set out to shock. That didn’t bother me, as that’s the nature of shock value: first it’s novel, then scary, then people write letters to the editor and try to plug their kids’ ears, and then a few minutes later that same person is either forgotten or trying in vain to top himself while forgetting what brought him there in the first place. Not so with Carlin.

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