'He was one funny motherfucker'

Tributes to George Carlin

Comedians have been paying their tributes to George Carlin, hailing his influence in transforming stand-up into an insightful, passionate artform.

‘He was one funny motherfucker,’ Robin Williams said, employing one of the Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television from the controversial routine that helped make Carlin’s name.

‘He dealt with the insanity of the world with the one-two punch of humour and honesty with no apologies,’ Williams added.

Carlin died of heart failure on Sunday night at the age of 71. He was admitted to a Santa Monica hospital complaining of chest pain, and died soon afterwards. He had been working to the end – with his last gig in Las Vegas just last weekend – and had been planning a summer tour.

Carlin started in the Fifties with a conservative nightclub routine, but after seeing Lenny Bruce, he started forging the harder-hitting routine about drugs and the counterculture that engaged with a new generation – even though changing his act cost him lucrative work at the time.

He later said: ‘I was doing superficial comedy entertaining people who didn’t really care: Businessmen, people in nightclubs, conservative people. And I had been doing that for the better part of ten years when it finally dawned on me that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things for the wrong people.’

Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in those nightclub years, said: ‘He was a genius, and I will miss him dearly.’

Other tributes to Carlin include

Jay Leno: ‘Before George, comedians aspired to put on nice suits and perform in Las Vegas. George rebelled against that life. His comedy took on privilege and elitism He never lost that fire. May he continue to inspire young people never to accept the status quo.’

Ben Stiller: ‘He had an amazing mind, and his humour was brave and always challenging us to look at ourselves and question our belief systems, while being incredibly entertaining. He was one of the greats. If there was ever a comedian who was a voice of their generation it was George Carlin

Joan Rivers: ‘His legacy to comedy is to tell the truth. Because the truth is hilarious... . This man never compromised, and that's a great thing to say about a comedian.’

Judy Tenuta: ‘This comic genius… so profoundly influenced me and every comic working today. The world has lost the Picasso of modern stand-up.’

Wanda Sykes: ‘ We have lost one of the last founding fathers of stand-up comedy. Well, at least now Pryor will have somebody who can make him laugh.’

Sarah Silverman: ‘George Carlin was a pioneer who continued to be vital and relevant til the day he died. He was cutting edge without sacrificing heart or passion.’

Ellen DeGeneres: ‘In a profession where some look for the easy laugh and cheap shot, George not only made us laugh, but his humour made us think.’

HBO: ‘No performer was more committed to the ideal of freedom of speech, a principle he embodied for the 50 years he performed. We will miss his humour and his righteous comic anger, and we will simply miss him.’

Bill Maher: ‘When I was thinking about being a comedian, George was my inspiration. He had a level of guts and fearlessness than nobody can match. Right to the end. In fact, the older he got, the more he didn't give a fuck.’

Lewis Black: ‘He was pulling us out of the Fifties mentality, which persists today. He did his best to try to help us Grow Up as a people. He said, “Can we mature a little? Can we be smarter than we’re acting?” The loss leaves a huge hole. We’re just not as funny any more.’

Last week it was announced that Carlin would receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and yesterday it was confirmed that the presentation would still go ahead posthumously, as a ‘funny celebration’ of Carlin’s career. Mark Krantz, executive producer of the award show, said: ‘He has a 50-year career to look back on. He was the first host of Saturday Night Live; he did 130 Johnny Carson shows’ he did 13 or more HBO specials, and he won four Grammys.’

Carlin will be best known for his controversial Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television routine. He was arrested for obscenity for performing it in 1972, but its later airing on a New York radio station led to a groundbreaking US Supreme Court case in 1978, which led to a nationwide 10pm watershed for indecent material.

Of the case, Carlin said: ‘My name is a footnote in American history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of.’

The iconoclastic former cocaine addict had recorded 18 albums of stand-up, was the first ever host of Saturday Night Live – and provided the voiceover for Thomas The Tank Engine in the States. He had previously suffered a heart attack in the Eighties, and had undergone two open-heart surgeries.

Published: 24 Jun 2008

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