Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Losing a Legend

By now, you undoubtedly know that George Carlin died last Sunday. So what is some technology wonk doing writing about him? About ten years ago, after I left Netscape, I ran an Internet radio website called Comedyaudio.com. It was the first 24-hour Internet comedy radio station. For a while, we ran commentaries from Merle Kessler (Ian Shoales) and Kelly Carlin-McCall, George Carlin's daughter. I never had the opportunity to meet George, but I spent some time with Kelly and some of her relatives. She told me stories about growing up with George and Brenda (George's first wife and Kelly's mother), most of which were hilarious.

Brenda died of cancer in 1997, a day before George's 60th birthday. The loss struck both George and Kelly incredibly hard; this was a very close-knit family that had gone through things that most people couldn't even dream of. It seemed to me that George's comedy and commentary turned darker after Brenda's death, but it was something that he never talked about on stage.

I wish Kelly and Sally Wade, Kelly's stepmother and George's surviving second wife, my deepest condolences. I know that George loved his family very deeply, and there will be no way to replace him. The world has lost a genius, both a comedy legend and, in his later years, a social commentator of the first order.

Comedy seems to have lost its ability to comment on deeper social issues. When comedians like Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce used offensive language, they used it to make important points, not just to shock or titillate. Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team take on politics, but it's inconceivable to me that they'd talk about religion like George Carlin did. Bill Maher is closer, but even he doesn't have Carlin's intensity or, in Carlin's later years, willingness to tear down his audience in order to make an important point.

I can't help but compare the coverage given to the recent deaths of Jim McKay, Tim Russert, and now, George Carlin. I was deeply disappointed by the paucity of coverage of McKay's death; the network that did the best job wasn't ABC, where McKay spent almost his entire career, but CBS, whose news and sports divisions are run by Sean McManus, McKay's son. Carlin has gotten a few minutes on the news here and there. Russert, on the other hand, got wall-to-wall coverage on all the 24-hour newschannels, including six straight hours on MSNBC and a half-hour of prime time on NBC. With all due respect, McKay and Carlin deserved better.

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