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Comedian Carlin Leaves Rich Legacy

Mr. GEORGE CARLIN (Comedian): I'm a high-tech lowlife, a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art bicoastal multitasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARLIN: I'm new wave but I'm old school. And my inner child is outward bound. I'm a hotwired, heat-seeking warmhearted cool customer, voice-activated and biodegradable. I interface on my database, and my database is in cyberspace, so I'm interactive, I'm hyperactive and from time to time, I'm radioactive.

(Soundbite of laughter)


George Carlin. The comedian died yesterday. His most famous bit involved seven words you can't use on television - you can't use them on radio either according to the FCC, but we needn't use them to remember Carlin's genius.

Mr. CARLIN: A Philadelphia man was arrested today while attempting to make an unauthorized deposit in a sperm bank.

(Soundbite of laughter)


George Carlin was a cut-up in parochial school. He trained his biting wit on friends, teachers and neighbors in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan. He said he and his friends used to call it White Harlem to make it sound tougher than it really was.

He started as a disc jockey and found fame as a standup. He was emboldened by Lenny Bruce, the raunchy comic who blazed a new obscenity-laced trail onstage.

NORRIS: By the early '70s, risque comedy was the rage and George Carlin was its star. Carlin told NPR's Scott Simon in 1984 that he never worried about going over the line when it came to taste.

(Soundbite of archived NPR show)

Mr. CARLIN: Well, I take some liberties with my audience, and I use the personal pronoun there because one can think of the audience as his own if you're the attraction.


Mr. CARLIN: So, the people that come to see me are generally in my corner already and they know what they're in for, as it were. They know the kinds of things I do, so I can step over the line more often without risking too much with them.

I used to be Irish Catholic, now I'm an American. You know, you grow.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. CARLIN: Yeah, I was from one of those Irish neighborhoods in New York, one of those kind of parish schools. It wasn't typical. It was Corpus Christi, was the name of it, it could've been any Catholic church, right? Our Lady of Great Agony.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Religion, politics, these were staples for Carlin. He heard what people avoided saying. And he could be serious about that, as he was in this 1990 conversation with Terry Gross on FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of NPR show FRESH AIR)

Mr. CARLIN: When people can't handle any more combat - in the First World War, that was called shell shock, which is very simple, honest and direct language. Shell shock, it describes exactly what it is. It almost sounds like guns. In the Second World War, a generation later, they decided to call that battle fatigue. It's twice as long now, four syllables, takes longer to say, doesn't seem to hurt. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock - shell shock, battle fatigue.

Then we had Korea in 1950. They called the same thing operational exhaustion. Now that humanity is completely missing from it and it sounds like something that might happen to your jeep. And in Vietnam, of course, the same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. And my point is, if we had still been calling it shell shock, maybe Vietnam veterans might have gotten some attention at the time.

NORRIS: In the end, George Carlin questioned everything, often with hilarious results. Credit the priests and the nuns of his Catholic education.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARLIN: Because they made questioners out of us, and they really didn't have any answers, you know? They'd fall back on, well, it's a mystery.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARLIN: Oh, thank you, Father. Mystery, I don't know, what's he talking about?

SIEGEL: Comedian George Carlin, who performed last weekend in Las Vegas. He died of heart failure at age 71.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.