This profile of comedian George Carlin originally was broadcast May 6, 2001.
For more than 40 years, George Carlin has been amusing everyone but the censors, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Bill Geist. Carlin was just honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Comedy Award. That gave him momentary pause, because moving on to his next sold-out performance, his big CD, his next best-selling book.
His new book, "Napalm and Silly Putty," has fans lining up, praising his topical humor.
Take, for instance, capital punishment. Carlin has this to say:
"Capital punishment is interesting because we don't go all the way with it. We now go with this lethal injection – which, by the way, for which they…swab your arm with alcohol before they give you the injection."
"We're not capitalizing on capital punishment. If you really believe in this, then I say, how about beheadings? Beheadings on TV. Slow motion instant replay and maybe let the heads roll down a little hill and fall into one of five numbered holes."
"How about putting a guy in a catapult and thrusting him into a brick wall? Maybe 15 in a row. You just keep loadin' 'em up. Well, we'd want to watch this, wouldn't we? Yes. We have to have it on TV."
"How about, besides the electric chair, the electric couch? Five guys together and you have a coffee table, dip, the remote control, a couple magazines. Kill them in the setting they live in."
This very smart comic dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
"I had a plan. School was not included," says Carlin. "I wanted to be like Danny Kaye."
He began as a straight coat-and-tie comic in the '60s. For many, the first memory of Carlin is as the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.
"I was fired from Las Vegas at the very end of – let's call it my 'straight standup period.' I was fired for saying (bleep) in the town where the big game is called craps."
He was fired in Vegas, arrested in Milwaukee, and when a radio station broadcast his bit on "The Seven Words You Can't Say on TV," the FCC sanctioned the station in a case that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then, as now, the more controversial, the better.
Carlin on abortion: "How come, when it's us, it's an abortion, and when it's a chicken, it's an omelet? Are we so much better than chickens? Name six ways we're better than chickens. See? Nobody can do it."
Carlin on children: "They're not all cute, okay? In fact, if you look, some of them are rather unpleasant looking and a lot of them don't smell good either."
Carlin on the handicapped: "There are people who use airline wheelchairs who are just tired. There are people who are just lazy. And just want a ride to the gate. And they pass as sick and handicapped. And canes. You ever see more canes come out than at the boarding gates? I think you could have a good busines renting canes in an airport. You call it Canes For Planes.
Carlin on the Almighty: "Something is wrong here – disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. This is the kind of (bleep) you expect from an office temp with a bad attitude."
At times, George Carlin doesn't seem to like anything or anybody.
"People I can do without: An airline pilot who's wearing two different shoes. A proctologist with poor depth perception. A pimp who drives a Ford Escort. A dentist with blood in his hair. A funeral director who says 'Hope to see you folks again real soon.'"
"Everybody wants me to have a nice day. Yeah, yeah. Give me my (bleeping) change."
"People who make quote marks in the air. Are you tired of those people yet?"
"Bad hair day. Where did this (bleep) come from? What a superficial culture. Put on your hat and go to work, you shallow (bleep)!"
"Can anyone explain to me the need for one-hour photo finishing? You just saw the (bleeping) thing."
"At home, when you make a sandwich, you reach below the first two pieces of bread to get the really good bread. It's sort of a survival thing. Let my family have the rotten bread. I'll take care of numero uno."
And words have always been central to Carlin's act.
"In your own words. People say that to you. Hear that a lot in courtrooms or classroom where they'll say, 'Tell us in your own words.' Hey, I'm using the same ones everybody else is using."
People have said that Carlin is getting angrier and crabbier. But he says people say that because "I'm describing more accurately the world they live in. And from a disappointment standpoint. A disappointment that leads to dissatisfaction. Which leads to a kind of finger pointing at them. 'Look what you've done to yourself.'
"I never include myself. I don't consider myself part of this. This whole human experiment."
So what is he part of?
"I am separate," he says. "I have divorced myself. I'm sort of on the…cloud outside the solar system and rooting for a comet…to aim itself right at the heart of this place. You know, the doctors have an expression for patients who are terminal called 'circling the drain.' And that's what I think this species is doing."
George Carlin. The kind of horrifyingly depressing pessimist you love to be around.
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