Comedy is a Unit Test

I’m a fan of comedy, but I hate dumb guy comedy. I’ve always preferred smart guy analytical routines. There’s a reason why George Carlin and Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and any comedian pushing the boundaries are important. You can think about their pointed explorations of taboos and the edges of what makes us uncomfortable as unit tests for a society. These are the things the challenge the atomic beliefs and the intrinsic operations that make us tick. If we don’t know how to deal the questions they pose in this isolated, entertainment framework then how the hell will we deal with them when they matter?

I found it very distressing in the days and weeks following the death of George Carlin that no one seems to actually know the name of his most famous routine. It’s not “The Seven Dirty Words”. There are way more than seven of those and Carlin knew that. He did a routine where he named hundreds. It was “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” and it was a very specific examination of hypocrisy of the time, pointing out that you couldn’t use the word “fuck” on network television but most television shows insinuate the act constantly. Three’s Company was about nothing else. That is a unit test, and listening to it is running the test. (As an aside, in the 35 years since the routine came out I’ve never heard anyone but myself notice that the list is in iambic hexameter.)

Dumb guy comedy does nothing for you. At its best, it makes you chuckle and then you forget it. Larry the Cable guy and Jeff Foxworthy and Gallagher come and then are gone. The best of smart guy comedy makes you sharper, it hones your edge and teaches you how to think. I credit some of whatever analytical, skeptical thinking ability I have to guys like Carlin and Bruce. A while back I pointed out that its insulting to talk about “colored people” but perfectly fine to refer to “people of color”, noting that apparently “of’ is the magic preposition that makes everything all right. That line of thinking is pure Carlin. Now that we don’t have him anymore we better grow some more quickly. Our society needs all the unit testing we can muster.

RIP George Carlin

Sadly, George Carlin has died at age 71. I’ve referenced him on this blog many times. He has been my favorite comedian for something like 25 years or so. I still have one of his day calendars sitting to the right of my desk. His odd outlook on life has affected the way I think, and even my father referenced him in his suicide note. On hearing the news that he had died, the expletive that ran through my head was “shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker mother fucker tits.” Plus “fart turd and twat.”

Goodbye George. You will be missed.

George Carlin Group Dynamic Comment of the Day

I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but I had all the wrong traits. Apparently, they were looking for kids who were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Unfortunately, at that time, I was devious, fickle, obstructive, hostile, rude, mean, defiant, glum, extravagant, cowardly, dirty, and sacreligious. So I waited a few years and joined the army.

– from the George Carlin Day Calendar for May 31, 2006

George Carlin Firewater Comment of the Day

I think the warning labels on alcoholic beverages are too bland. They should be more vivid. Here are a few I would suggest:

  • “Alcohol will turn you into the same asshole your father was.”
  • “Drinking will significantly improve your chances of murdering a loved one.”
  • “Use this product and you may wake up in Morocco wearing a cowboy suit and tongue-kissing a transmission salesman.”

– from the George Carlin Day Calendar for March 27, 2006

George Carlin 2006

Last week I bought the George Carlin 2006 day calendar. There are a couple of upsides of buying a day calendar in February. One – it’s $3 instead of $15 or whatever outrageous price it lists at. Two – you get to rip through 30 of these things the first day. The hardest part of these things to me is being disciplined enough to not go through the entire calendar the first time you look at it. Back to my daily doses of sardonic to start off my mornings.

George Carlin Music Commentary of the Day

White people ought to understand … their job is to give people the blues, not to get them. And certainly not to sing or play them! I’ll tell you a little secret about the blues: It’s not enough to know which notes to play, you have to know why they need to be played.

– from the George Carlin Day Calendar for August 26, 2005