June 2011

Exit laughing

By David Feela

George Carlin: Born: May 12, 1937 Died: June 22, 2008.

In Las Vegas if you stare up from the Strip at all the flashing billboards announcing which eternally recycled performers will be appearing, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that, sadly, there are no new talented performers alive in America. At least not in Las Vegas. I mean, there’s Wayne Newton, Siegfried and a bit of Roy, Celine Dion, David Copperfield’s magic act, and Cher, the performer who stands on her one name. Not only are they not new, their billboards read like epitaphs.

I remember long ago when I noticed George Carlin was going to appear on the Strip. I wanted so badly to see his show, but the bank wouldn’t loan me the money for a down payment on his tickets. I had to settle for a recording I found at a second-hand audio store. I listened to him at home and just laughed, his imagined presence filling the little room where I sat.

It’s hard to believe over three years have passed since George Carlin passed. And what a strange word for dying, Carlin might have observed, to say someone has “passed” – as if a life has just accelerated out of reach. Carlin was famous for word lists, many of them containing euphemisms, and now the man himself has been euphemized. What a way to go.

Carlin often discussed death. He said, “Death is caused by swallowing small amounts of saliva over a long period of time.” He also said, “I’m always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I’m listening to it.” George, you should be ecstatic, because you don’t have to listen anymore. You are in that strange place where jokes go after they are told, their impact recalled but their punch lines eternally forgotten.

Perhaps becoming cynical as we age cannot be helped, but to lose the humor makes us unbalanced. The news, for instance, can’t help reminding us of the tragedies and the dying, that the number of people 65 or older is expected to double in the next three decades. Anticipating that looming threshold, Carlin claimed by 2011 we’d refuse to refer to ourselves as the elderly. He suggested we call ourselves the pre-dead.

I think the man just grew wiser. I own a book with his signature scrawled on the title page, one of my possessions that rises above Carlin’s famous nomenclature, that our possessions are “just stuff.” I found it at a thrift store, a first-edition copy of “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops.” Someone just tossed it out, probably because Carlin’s humor offended (and still offends) some people. Noted for his social criticism, he poked many taboo subjects squarely in the eye. He had a knack for laughing black.

Seventy-one years on this planet and he still exists in countless recordings and books that are easy to find. If he has anything left to say about humor, given his currently unique perspective from the afterlife, it’s still a mystery, though more than likely very funny. I’m hoping to get to his afterlife performance, eventually, but I’m going to be more than a little crabby if it still costs money.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo.