Trolled around Comcast On Demand last night to find a particular Stephen Colbert routine. The man is hilarious. Got me thinking about comedy.
There are a few exceptionally intelligent comedians around today. They are really a combo deal; part social commentary, part humor. Although with the strange world we now live in it's hard to tell the difference. I guess that's the point.
Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams, Lewis Black. They are incredibly intelligent, incredibly well informed, insightful and wickedly funny.
I put Maher, Miller and Stewart in the genius category; these guys blow me away with their knowledge, their command of the English language and their ability to rip apart hypocrisy. Dennis Miller has disappointed me because it turns out he is a right wing conservative; I never picked that up in his stand up, but now that he has a radio program he is a ranting, conservative lunatic. Although I would never say that to his face; he would pick me apart with his intelligence and that piercing and sarcastic laugh. Still I respect his I.Q.
Stephen Colbert is brilliant at what he does. I love knowing that if a Fox viewer tuned him in they would take him seriously. Sarah Silverman has her own style and she really pushes the limits. I love that; it's good to make people uncomfortable.
I have worshipped Robin Williams for years because he works from a tightrope; sheer insanity that somehow comes up brilliant just when you think he's going to crash and burn. Lewis Black is awesome; his weapon is anger and he wields it mercilessly.
But what I was really thinking about last night was George Carlin. I miss him. I mean I really miss him like a friend or a relative. When he died I was devastated. HBO ran all his specials for a while and I DVR'ed a bunch of them. I had about 3 million hours of Carlin on that magic box. Eventually I deleted them and it hurt to do it. But I had to make room for Lassie.
The man was amazing. I would watch his specials and he would offer a point of view that would make me wonder why the hell I didn't think of that. And he did it to me over and over again. He exposed hypocrisy in the government and corporations and even in the daily lives of us wee folk. Sometimes he made me cringe because I knew he was talking about my own hypocrisy or stupidity.
In my humble opinion, and trust me I ain't no expert, Carlin and Lenny Bruce were the godfathers of all of today's edgy, intelligent comedians. Red Foxx and Richard Pryor were ground breakers as well.
Lenny Bruce did the heavy lifting. He dealt with race and drugs and language and hypocrisy and more; he died in 1966 so you can imagine how hard it was for him to get his message out there in such a backwards and conservative time. He was arrested many times and generally tormented; his beliefs eventually killed him. I think a lot of Bruce's humor, at least towards the end, came out of desperation. He was harassed everywhere he went; he had no peace and no validation.
Carlin is the guy who took it all the way. He fought, he was harassed and he was arrested. Famously in Milwaukee in 1972 for performing his "7 words" routine at a summer festival. A radio broadcast of the same routine eventually led to a Supreme Court decision to help establish the extent to which the government could regulate speech broadcast on radio and TV. Eventually he triumphed, because he could say whatever he wanted to no matter how inflammatory, no matter who's hypocrisy he revealed from under a rock. The man had a major impact on our society.
And he was so damn lovable. I felt like he was a friend of mind; much smarter, more insightful, infinitely funnier, but still he felt like somebody I could have a beer with. Or snort coke with. He mixed in fart jokes and all kinds of bodily references, childlike humor at times, off the wall stuff, and little human detail types of stuff that offset the intellectual stuff.
We took our kids to a show of his years ago, they were fairly young, and people around us were offended. I loved it.
As I dig the current crop of smart, informed, inventive and ego deflating comedians that are out there today, I think a lot about George Carlin. He didn't just make me laugh, although I had tears of laughter in my eyes on many occasions watching him do his thing. He taught me; he taught me to think a little harder, to question a little more, to be bolder and to never trust anybody in authority. That made him a hell of a lot more than a comedian. That made him an inspiration.