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To the Ramparts of Comedy, Playfully Profane

George Carlin

If there’s a definitive illustration of the adage that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, it may be the early years of George Carlin’s stand-up-comedy career.

Carlin swam mightily through the lukewarm ooze of American pop culture, opening for lounge acts like Joey Heatherton, Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet. He appeared on regrettable television shows, the kinds of things that will play on every television station in hell: “John Davidson at Notre Dame”; “Perry Como’s Holiday in Hawaii”; “The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour.” He became a grizzled, bankable survivor. A weird anger began to light him, like an ingested lava lamp, from within.

George Carlin died two years ago, on June 22, 2008, a dark day for those (I was among them) who sought regular injections of his word-drunk, reflexively anti-authoritarian humor. Carlin has already had a busy afterlife. His “sortabiography,” “Last Words,” written with Tony Hendra, was published last year and was a better, chewier, more touching book than it had any right to be. On the horizon is an oral history, compiled by his daughter, Kelly Carlin McCall. George Carlin: he’s hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead.

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