Monday, June 23, 2008

Seven Words You Can Say in the Afterlife

     At 5:55 pm PDT on Sunday afternoon comedian George Carlin died of heart failure at a Santa Monica hospital, five days after it was announced that he was to receive the 11th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.  Famous for a lot of his counterculture related comedy, he probably most widely known for his list of "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV."  This list actually led to a Supreme Court case in 1978 over whether or not the government can sanction TV and radio stations for broadcasting offensive language (they can).  Six years before that he was arrested for disturbing the peace in Milwaukee for using the same seven words during his show.  My mom's boyfriend was at the show a year later; this is the story as related to me.
     On July 21, 1972 after a show at Milwaukee's Summerfest, Carlin was arrested for disturbing the peace as a result of him using profanity during his show (click here to read about how he was able to ditch the cocaine in his pockets before the police arrested him).  He spent the night in jail but no criminal charges were ever pressed.  He was acquitted of civil charges by a judge later that year.  He returned to Milwaukee a year later for a show and things were tense.  His incident had gained him a fair amount of notoriety and everyone was expecting more.  The night of the show, there was a massive police presence, with officers lining the auditorium and stationed in every isle.  Before the show officially began, as the crowd stirred and waited, Carlin walked out on stage to a microphone and stated "The last time I was here I spent an extra night in town, unexpectedly.  As a result, here is a list of seven words that you won't hear during my show tonight."  He then read off the following list: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tit.  Those are the seven words that got George Carlin in so much trouble over the years.  And since he had proclaimed them before the start of his show there was nothing the officers in the isle could do about it.  The law might be able to control what you say during shows, but they can't stop a private citizen from swearing in front of a crowd, right?  So Carlin got away with it, stuck it to the man and the world moved on.  It was brilliant.
     And that's what was so great about George Carlin.  He was always smart, and always had great insight.  And he never shirked from controversy, and never backed off from what he thought was right.  And he went through his life and his fame laughing at it all with a sort of air of disbelief.  Fantastic.  He will be missed.  His abrupt passing has removed a part of our culture and comedy history that was indispensable and undeniable.  May you be blessed on your journey from here George, I hope that wherever you are going you can say your seven words without molestation.  Wait, scratch that.  I hope that wherever you have ended up those seven words still cause controversy and still piss people off.  You wouldn't want it any other way.

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