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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin and his seven dirty words

There may be seven dirty words you can never say on television, but there was only one George Carlin. The counter-culture comic with the sharp mind and filthy mouth died Sunday (not "passed away"— he would've hated the use of such a euphemism) after a heart attack at age 71. He leaves behind a legacy of insightful, subversive comedy, including one infamous routine about a handful of words that you'll never hear on TV. (Well, broadcast TV, at any rate. He wrote the bit in 1972, keep in mind, just as fledgling HBO was switching on.) The monologue — and the firestorm it caused — led to a series of Supreme Court rulings on decency practices for television and radio.

It all started, where else, at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Carlin was arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed "Seven Dirty Words" at the state music festival. He was released on bail, and the charges were dropped when a judge cited Carlin's right to free speech.

It was when Carlin recorded a similar routine for his 1973 album "Occupation: Foole," and a radio station in New York decided to air it, that the Word No. 1 really hit the fan. The station, part of the non-commercial Pacifica Radio Network, was threatened with sanctions by the FCC after a listener complained about the possible effect the words may have had on his son. The case eventually landed at the Supreme Court, where Pacifica eventually lost, suffering the ignominious fate of a sternly worded letter for airing indecent material.

What followed, however, was a Supreme Court declaration giving broadcasters the right to air quote-unquote "indecent" material between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when children were supposedly in bed. This, in turn, led to millions of American kids staying up way too late watching smut, failing exams the next day, and basically destroying our public school system. (That last part was pure conjecture.)

Carlin, in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this year, professed no small bit of pleasure regarding the whole incident. "So my name is a footnote in American legal history," he said, "which I’m perversely kind of proud of."

But in remembering this comedic giant's life, and his contributions to television in particular, we'd be a bunch of stupid Word No. 6's if we failed to mention how he was the first host ever for "Saturday Night Live," on October 11, 1975. How he appeared on "The Tonight Show" around 130 times, according to the Associated Press. How he played up his softer side with "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Shining Time Station," and had his own short-lived sitcom, "The George Carlin Show," back in 1994. The man basically invented the HBO stand-up special, and recorded 14 in all. And Comedy Central placed him at No. 2 on their list of the greatest stand-ups of all time, losing only to Richard Pryor.

If it's the Seven Dirty Words that he is most remembered for, so be it. Because as long as words like ****, **********, and ************ are banned from TV (and TV blogs, ahem), we're always going to remember George Carlin, and his brilliant, filthy mind.

For more on Carlin's life and comedy, check out these links: Entertainment Weekly, Ain't It Cool News, NPR, and The Houston Chronicle.

Adam Reinhard,



Nice work, Adam.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 24, 2008 at 11:31 AM  

I agree. A nice little tribute to a comedy legend who came around Green Bay and Appleton often.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 24, 2008 at 11:06 PM  


Many country music fans here would love to ask when BMI Recording Artist Singer-Songwriter Thom Meinert will be featured. His music has hit #1 and we all love him. Could you all do a feature, or provide more info. Thank you all. This guy is unreal!

By Anonymous Anonymous, At August 30, 2008 at 10:48 AM  

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