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THAT'S FUNNY: But George Carlin was also important
February 4, 2009  | By Diane Werts
 
george carlin caricature twain prize.jpgHe didn't live to see it, and that makes me so mad, I could say all of the seven words you can never say on TV. But instead, I'll just watch The Mark Twain Prize: George Carlin(Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on many PBS stations; check local listings for premiere/repeat times).


Heartfelt tributes to Carlin's comedic genius fill the posthumous ceremony, taped in November at Washington's Kennedy Center, featuring the likes of Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, previous Twain recipient Lily Tomlin, and many others.

But it wasn't just Carlin's sense of humor and his jazz-like facility for verbal rhythms that made him a great stand-up. After coming to fame in the '60s with fairly benign routines (Al Sleet, the hippy-dippy weatherman), Carlin turned in the '70s to sharper cultural observations, ushering in a new era of topical comedy -- not hard-edged like earlier practioner Mort Sahl, but genially, slyly trenchant. And even more broadly effective. (Consider his baseball/football comparison with its cultural take on idyllic/aggressive.)

Carlin also delivered the small-things scrutiny that many folks attribute to Jerry Seinfeld, most memorably in his routines about "stuff."

The Twain special pays honor to all of Carlin's four decades of genius. But it's even better to hear it yourself. Carlin's official site offers a smattering of streaming audio/video (including the "seven dirty words"). And MPI has released the DVD trove George Carlin: All My Stuff, collecting his 30 years of HBO stand-up specials (save his 2008 finale It's Bad for Ya) on 14 discs to explore at your leisure.

This is great "stuff."

Several of Carlin's stand-up specials also show up on TV this week:


    • George Carlin: You Are All Diseased, 1999 (Thursday night/Friday morning at 1:55 a.m. ET, HBO Comedy)

    • George Carlin: It's Bad for Ya, his 2008 finale (Friday night/Saturday morning, at 1:25 a.m. ET, HBO2)

    • On Location: George Carlin at USC, his 1977 HBO debut (Saturday at 6 p.m. and later at 3:45 a.m. ET, HBO Comedy)

  • George Carlin: On Campus, 1984 (Sunday night/Monday morning at 3:05 a.m. ET, and Thursday, Feb. 12 at 5 a.m. ET, both on HBO Comedy)
 
 
 
 
 
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