Remembering George Carlin, whose humor and ideas are honored in HBO’s two-part documentary – The South Dakota Standard

(Editor’s note: HBO pays tribute to the great comedian and philosopher – yes, he was – George Carlin with a new two-part documentary, “George Carlin’s American Dream.” It details the career, which Carlin built, tore down and then recreated to achieve superstar status, and the troubled life of the great American comedian, who died in 2008. Carlin (seen above in an image by has been missing for more than a decade, but his carefully honed work, filled with a potent blend of comedy and social commentary, lives on and will for decades, probably centuries.

Carlin was smart. He studied history, people and words to carve out a unique position as a stand-up genius. He did annual specials for HBO, so it’s a fitting place for this George Carlin review.

Tom Lawrence, who saw Carlin in person at a hilarious gig at SDSU at Frost Arena in October 1975, posted this tribute to the comic great on The Standard nearly a year ago. Like the HBO documentary, it’s worth repeating.)

Just because the microphone went silent over a decade ago doesn’t mean the laughter has stopped.

George Carlin passed away in 2008, but his comedy and wisdom, often paired in the same perfectly worded line, still resonates. On the contrary, Carlin’s genius is increasingly appreciated.

It should. While a successful performer on television, radio, film, records, and on stage, Carlin is also known for his insights into deep and lingering human flaws. At the end of his life and career, his humor turned dark – jet black, really – as he foresaw the end of mankind, caused by our own stubborn ignorance.

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups,” he said, correctly predicting many fads, fads, and elections.

His career started on a more familiar path, with a Short-haired pug performing in nightclubs and in Las Vegas, making material much like other comics of the time. But it wasn’t his real voice, and when he changed his look and style, he was much more successful.

I saw Carlin at Brookings on October 17, 1975. He had hosted the very first episode of “Saturday Night Live” six days prior, was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and had top-selling comedy albums.

It was the peak of his career and Frost Arena was packed for his show. He was lively, funny, extremely profane – I can’t tell you what he said to us at the end of the series, but you might guess – and deeply troubled.

Carlin later admitted that he was struggling with a strong addiction to cocaine and also drinking and indulging in other illegal substances. His first marriage was rocky, with his wife Brenda also battling addiction.

On top of that, Carlin’s mother, Mary Bearey Carlin, lived with them for years and often sided with her stepdaughter in tormenting the comedian. It was a rather unstable family life, as her daughter Kelly has recounted in a book, in interviews and a one-woman show. I recently read his excellent book, “A Carlin Home Companion”, and really enjoyed it.

Well, in a way. It was truly sad to reveal the depths the Carlin family has reached through drugs and alcohol. It was also interesting to read how otherwise normal they were, with George enjoying watching “The Carol Burnett Show” with his family, how fiercely protective he was of her daughterand how complex and loving their relationship was.

We exchanged a few tweets and she seems to have survived her unique upbringing without lasting damage. It was weird, as she admits, but there was a lot of love and a deep appreciation for the words.

George Carlin may have played the jester, but he experienced deep pain. He suffered heart attacks in 1978, 1982 and 1991 and went to rehab in 2004 due to alcohol and Vicodin problems.

“Just because you got rid of the monkey doesn’t mean the circus left town,” he said.

Despite this clown’s tears, Carlin was remarkably kind and generous with the young performers. Many comics said he spent time with them in person and on the phone, offering advice and reviewing their material.

Why? The public cynic was, in private, a good man.

Carlin worked hard until the end, writing and performing 14 gigs for HBO – all with original material – and continues to appear in concerts and on television. He starred in a spotty but funny TV series on Fox and was often a welcome addition to movies, though he never got the lead role, great script and talented director he needed and deserved. .

On June 22, 2008, Carlin, just 71 years old, died of heart failure. Like millions of people, I watched many of his specials over the next few days as HBO honored him by airing his performances.

Jerry Seinfeld, a very little Pug comedian who idolized him, wrote a tribute to him which was published in The New York Times. Seinfeld said he spent much of his career coming up with an idea, only to realize that Carlin had already done it.

“He worked on an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light,” Seinfeld wrote. “He made you regret that you ever thought you wanted to be an actor. He was like a train tramp with a chicken bone. When he finished, there was nothing left for anyone.

I still watch Carlin on YouTube, reruns on TV and sometimes hear him on the radio. He always makes me smile and I often laugh, even if I’m alone. It’s a real test of humor.

The only time Carlin did anything that wasn’t funny was when he walked off stage, with the crowd faint of laughter, just hoping for another routine from the comedic genius.

Tom Lawrence has written for several South Dakota and other state newspapers and websites and has contributed to NPR, The London Telegraph, The Daily Beast and other outlets.