"I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." -G.C.
Watching stand-up on TV today you would think the quote was "I think the duty of the comedian is to find the line, then run from that line as fast as humanly possible, hide behind a nearby tree, then write that family comedy spec-script you've been kicking around for years."
When Carlin and Bruce were playing dives, stand-up was still counter-culture. You could get arrested for speaking. They got arrested for speaking. George used to be a wacky-faced suit-and-tie observational stand-up until the day he saw Lenny Bruce--until he saw what stand-up could truly be: the art of pushing people's buttons. I know a lot of people felt the same way when they saw Carlin for the first time. That "oh shit" moment when you realize you're a fraud and everything you're doing is dogshit. Many comics ran home to their notebooks after hearing Carlin talk about drugs, censorship, or religion. Most, after that long night of soul-searching, got on stage two days later and talked about their girlfriends' periods, completely selling out last night's soul, instead opting for the easy road to Nowhere. How many comics still talk about what people already know, and what no one is afraid of because they figure there will always be guys like George? Well, now there aren't.
Anytime a club owner, an editor, a member of the audience, a reader, a blog commenter, a parent, an agent, a manager, or a TV executive tells you "You can't say that," say "Fuck you. I just did. That means you're wrong." Then, think of George: hippy in handcuffs being dragged out of a club after knowingly breaking the law by saying what he wanted to say, smiling big, and thinking about how he would work this into the act.
I only met him once. I was with my best friends at the time and we thanked him for paving the way for edgy comics. He looked at us, and referring to the many people that would tell us what we could and could not say, he said, "Eh! Put a finger in their eye!" Perfect.
The good news is this: the comics he did influence will take this art form even further, and find more lines to cross. There may only be a few, but there was only one Carlin and look what that motherfucker did. George Carlin died today. He got high and wrote jokes 'til his last breath. Perfect.