Growing up in the 70s and 80s, there were only two comedians I felt truly mattered, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. I loved comedy, listened to Bill Cosby, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy records as often as rock records, read Lenny Bruce’s autobiography the way the Amish read the Bible (what other book is there?), and soaked up all the other satire permeating popular culture back then (Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, MAD magazine, Cheech and Chong, etc.)
Pryor and Carlin made me laugh, of course. But they left deeper impressions on me than any of the others, because they seemed far more fearless, more rebellious, more angry, yet smarter, too. Only Bruce and Lily Tomlin came close to engaging both my intellect and my sense of outrage the way Pryor and Carlin did. Pryor spoke to me as a fellow humanist, someone who looked for the redeemable within the heart of the depraved, or found the humanity in the dehumanized.
Never so sentimental, Carlin spoke to the opposite, to that part of me that is just fed up with the stupidity of the human race — the arrogance, the self-destructiveness, the solipsism, and the idiocy. Much has been written about Carlin’s gifts of observation and language, how he identifies the self-serving hypocrisy of our euphemisms; yet fueling such insight was a grievance. A really angry fucking grievance. For all of his cynicism, his misanthropy, his descriptions of human beings as worthless trash who befouled the planet and the stank up the universe, Carlin was at his most outraged (and his best) when human beings failed to live up to their potential, when the powerful used the poor as cannon fodder, when political elites — conservative or liberal — trivialized real suffering with feel good, patriotic, self-fellating bullshit.