Grumpy Comedians

I remember hearing George Carlin on a cassette tape, at a friend’s house. We were teenagers, and only vaguely delinquent. We laughed as we smoked and listened; a break from the otherwise boring routine in my hometown. Seven dirty words. Fussy eater. We rolled.

Cut to twenty years later. I vaugely remembered that I stopped liking Carlin; remembered commenting that he’d just gotten bitter. But I wanted my wife to see “Fussy Eater”. (Because, you see, she is. Hence the funny.)

The Carlin retrospective we watched started back in the 70’s – and included all the bits that I remembered. I noticed, though, that with the Seven Dirty Words bit, that the crowd wasn’t laughing for the same reason that Carlin was. The crowd was simply titillated (my wife’s very apt term) at his profanity in public. Carlin, on the other hand, was poking fun at our social conventions and the ludicrous arbitrary nature of them.

Then we got to the later parts. Eventually we had to turn it off in the middle of a rant about things that annoyed him while driving. Y’know – stop lights. Joggers. Bikers. Other people. Basically anything that wasn’t part of his plans and wasn’t actively helping him.

I still don’t know if it was satire; the advice to tell a cop that you shouldn’t get a ticket because you’ve got a bunch of heroin to deliver couldn’t have been serious. Maybe it was him trying to poke fun at excessively irritable road-raging drivers.

But if so, the crowd, once again, didn’t get it. They roared approval as they took him at face value. Instead of mocking selfishness, the audience appeared to be taking it as straight commentary.

Maybe it’s just because I’m comparing him to Bill Hicks; also outrageous, Bill wouldn’t hesitate to let you know that you were the butt of the joke. All of them, really. Carlin’s later satire – if it was satire, and not just the comedic equivalent of “You dadgum kids get off of my lawn!” – empowered instead of deflating those it lampooned.

There’s a responsibility that comes with satire. It’s the responsibility to make sure that it’s not perceived as being a celebration of what they’re mocking. Jonathan Swift’s _A Modest Proposal_ is a genius bit of satire.

But something tells me he would’ve been upset if someone actually went to Dublin and started feasting.