I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. As a small boy my favorite television show was “Howdy Doody.” My favorite character on the show was Clarabelle the Clown, a mute circus clown with a bicycle horn who was always pulling pranks. I loved watching “The Red Skelton Show” with my parents. Red was both a stand-up comic and a mime. My favorite character of his was Clem Kadiddlehopper, a mute hobo in the tradition of Emmitt Kelly‘s circus clown.
As I grew older, my taste in clowns grew more sophisticated. Rowan and Martin, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Flip Wilson, Johnny Carson, and my favorite clown of all, George Carlin. All of my clowns are now dead and gone, George joining the celestial class clown hall of fame a few days ago. This post is dedicated to George, who I will miss dearly. Losing one’s heroes is difficult any any age, and when you are my age, it becomes especially poignant, because it is such a stark reminder of your own mortality.
The earliest memories I have of George are of him doing his “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” routine on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Carson, along with everyone watching the show, was rolling in the aisles. And, in later appearances on that show, the conversations between George and Johnny were some of the funnies bits on television. Most of what went on between those two probably went right over poor Ed McMahon’s head.
Carlin is probably best know for his “Seven Dirty Words” routine, which made him, as he put it, a footnote in the history of the Supreme Court rulings on freedom of speech. Yes, George did use obscenity at times in his routines, but not for the shock effect, as do many other comics. He did it to make a socio-political statement on behalf of the freedom of speech.
You see, George was more than just a comic. He was a freedom fighter and social commentator, holding up a mirror for us all to see our hypocrisies amd self-deceptions. A hero is someone who has a major influence on your life. That is why George Carlin is one of my heroes. Had there never been a George Carlin, I would not be who I am today, and neither would a lot of other people whose lives were so deeply touched by his wit and humor. Rest im peace, George. I am sure God will love your sense of humor as much as we did.