Remembering George Carlin – Being, Doing and “A Case of the Crabs”

I just finished the autobiography, Last Words, by George Carlin, with Tony Hendra. During his life, the late comedian compiled volumes of memoirs that he worked off and on with Hendra to distill. After Carlin’s death in 2008, Hendra (a British comedian whose work ranged from Graham Chapman to National Lampoon, from Spy magazine to Spitting Image) put the finishing touches on a very readable summary of those thousands of pages of memoirs.

Carlin was an amazing and original talent, particularly when he hit his stride of performing very personal “philosophical” comedy. He could tick you off, then turn you around.

An example: Environmentalists trying to save endangered species are a waste of time. (What??) Then the explanation comes: The idea that we are here to save other species is the height of arrogance, “especially when we haven’t learned how to take care of one another.” The earth did fine without us for 4.5 billion years, and if we upset the balance too much, it will simply “shuck us off like a case of the crabs. Forget about saving endangered species–WE are the endangered species.”

And in a bizarre connection to yesterday morning’s post, Carlin mused about what might have happened if his wife hadn’t died in 1997 of cancer. Would they have dropped out of the rat race and found a new way of life? His comment:

“Time to be and not do. I got that from my shrink, Al Weinstein…his code of life, which was: Be. Do. Get. And I don’t be enough, Jack. I do plenty. I get some. But I don’t BE.”

Among Carlin’s idols was the multitalented Danny Kaye. Apropos of many of Kaye’s routines, here is Carlin opening a show with what may be the most impressive 3-minute display of verbal dexterity I have ever seen:

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