Thursday, October 13, 2016

George Carlin and Diversity

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of Jerry Hamza in my career and life.  Without Jerry, I don’t think I would have escaped from the financial and creative swamp that bad choices and drugs had landed me in by the late seventies. Without his support and unerring instincts I would’ve never had the confidence to go beyond stand-up and begin to explore comedy as art. Along the way he also became something I’d never allowed myself before: my best friend.

George Carlin,
Strident, funny,
and gracious in person

I can relate to comedian George Carlin, as seen on Youtube. There he stands: independent, realistic, with his roots in diversity. That’s a buzzword these days, “diversity.”

In Carlin’s case, he came not from New York City, but from an all-Irish neighborhood within New York: Nuns, schoolteachers, nuns as schoolteachers, cops, everyone he knew in the youth gangs—all Irish. I suppose New York was ahead of the rest of the U.S. in replacing their old traditional belief in “melting pot” with “pluralism”: In fact, I think New Yorkers had never melted in: “Who’s your rabbi?” was the question a politician, back in Grandpa’s day, would ask of any individual who wanted action or help on something: asking this literally of any Jews, and figuratively, I guess, of any member of any diverse group. The impoverished concrete jungle was rough; you gained power from your group, fronted by “your rabbi.”

Carlin was intelligent but poor. He made it to ninth grade, and went off to the air force at age 17—where he hung out with black servicemen. Not from being diverse, but from being independent of white conformity. If the only fellows in the barracks who listen to jazz records and toke up are black, well, that’s where you go.

I can relate. A friend once said, “You out-liberal the liberals” as I wouldn’t let fear of losing my “straight white privilege” keep me from doing the right thing. I couldn’t control my natural fear, but I could control my actions. Well. To this day one of my brothers thinks I’m homosexual. I think he’s frustrated.

Late in Carlin’s career he stopped doing jokes about dogs and cats, driving habits and department stores. Instead he started doing angry jokes about the world. As Carlin learned at last regarding his stage comedy, italics his:
QUOTE (p 247) Laughter is not the only form of success. Boy, what a liberating recognition that was! UNQUOTE

Success could be making people think. So idealistic. Of course, then he needed to become an informed idealist. Here’s the previous, younger Carlin:
QUOTE (p228) “…I didn’t have any synthesized sets of feelings or information about politics. Beyond a few one-liners about racism or Vietnam I had no coherent point of view. It was more a question of: “Let’s just get HIIIGGGHHH! Yeah, man, I’m against this and I’m against that, but who the fuck knows why?”” UNQUOTE

That’s from George Carlin’s memoir, Last Words with Tony Hendra. I am sure George would want me to include Tony’s name, as George was a gentleman. For example, when he wanted to use ideas from Jurassic Park for his Save the Planet sketch, he got permission from Michael Crichton… (Remember Jeff Goldblume’s character? In the movie he merely gets to say, “You did it because you could, without asking whether you should!” But in the book version he gets several good long passages for speaking against hubris) …I know Carlin asked him, because Crichton said so on his web site where, until around Crichton’s death, Carlin’s Youtube sketch was embedded.

Carlin again:
QUOTE (P234) “My new direction was slowly making itself known to me—by the reading I was choosing and the things I was tearing out and circling in periodicals. I was beginning to keep what amounted to a journal in another form: a record of my reactions to issues.” UNQUOTE

I smile to think of the older Carlin having reactions, because, like his father who beat him, at an earlier stage George didn’t have much access to his feelings. I can relate. Today, like Carlin, I don’t join any political parties, although I know maybe I should. In Carlin’s case, in his memoir he admits readers might find it “escapist” that he doesn’t join parties and things, but he likes all people as individuals, and he thinks they lose something when they conform to a group. In Carlin’s defense, let’s remember he was a wide-ranging comedian, which to me means he shouldn’t be tied down
to one race, religion or (political party) creed.

Like Carlin, I may be left-wing, but I’m also like him in being independent.

QUOTE (p 232) “…The habits of liberals, their automatic language, their knee-jerk responses to certain issues, deserved the epithets the right wing stuck them with… Here they were, banding together in packs, so that I could predict what they were going to say about some event or conflict and it wasn’t even out of their mouths yet. I was very uncomfortable with that. Liberal orthodoxy was as repugnant to me as conservative orthodoxy.” UNQUOTE

I learned the word “orthodox” as a child from the science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell. After that, I’ve avoided being orthodox, even as I leaned left. If I’m a liberal, then maybe it’s because I read science fiction. You know that amazing inter-racial kiss on the original Star Trek? (Kirk and Uhura) Maybe it was controversial to watchers of the telly; but not to readers of sf. Not to me.

But here’s the thing: I get homesick reading about the white picket fence towns in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, written back in the 1940’s. If tomorrow I wrote a detective novel set in a sprawling U.S. Mars colony, with gleaming hydroponic tanks, then I might include slums for my gritty hero to walk down, but not enclaves of diversity, let alone walled ghettos. I say: Forget diversity.

A cry of disbelief, directed down at me from the peanut gallery: “What? —You can’t forget diversity! (It’s so true, good and beautiful) Don’t you want to nurture and fertilize it?”  

Let the last words be George Carlin’s, (p 158) italics his:

I used to be Irish Catholic. Now I’m an American. You know—you GROW.

Sean Crawford

~Last Words by George Carlin
with Tony Hendra
Free Press
New York, NY
Trade paperback edition, quoted here, November 2010
A Memoir,
with Introduction by Tony Hendra

~I think Crichton was a guest on the PBS Charlie Rose show more times than any one else: I wish Crichton’s estate would put the Charlie Rose interviews back on his web site…

~I wrote of Crichton and the “politicization of science” in my essay Angry With Michael Crichton archived November 2011


  1. I used to be uncomfortable with George Carlin's humour as it was too "real" for me when I wanted to live in denial of anything the least bit political. Politics drives me snaky. But hey, if you aren't getting any regular mail or telephone calls, just join a political party; no matter which one you join you will be sure to have regular contact with another human being. You can get a chuckle as I do when they ask for donations. I feel like I'm among the privileged rich from the tone of their invitation to donate.

  2. That's amusing.

    Since for every political party, only less than one per cent of the membership can be a politician, there really are good ones: After all, a more sure route to riches is business or law. As a news reporter I liked the ones I met. My last MLA was so good he stayed in office although his party sank. I was not the only one tell him people voted the man, not the party.

    I intent to blog soon about Eric Kierans. Too bad so few people have checked out his life story, "Remembering," so few that the library turfed it.

    One day when I displayed initiative by walking into a party office on my own, they made sure I walked out with a hand-made ceramic badge.
    Party membership hasn't been as popular, nor have a lot of things, since the invention of television.

  3. Cindy, since you worked on parliament hill, I guess you would know the politicians Kierans mentions. To me the names are like hearing old hockey players: they ring a bell, but I can't say the faces or which teams.