Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame

The passing of George Carlin first made me think of how shocking his "seven words you can't say on television" routine seemed at the time and how thoroughly out of date it is now. I think at least three of the seven (#1, #2 and #7, if I remember the order right) have made it onto normal network TV -- not some live show, as part of a script -- and the other night we were flipping around and found some bizarre Spike TV awards show where the apparent goal was to drive censors insane. Steve Carell -- nice, mild Steve Carell -- gave an acceptance speech where he said dirty words #3, #5 and #6. Repeatedly. With relish. Yes, he was bleeped out, but anyone over age 5 knew exactly what he was saying.

What I always wonder, in those moments, is what deaf people are thinking when they come across something like that. If you're reading lips, isn't it safe to assume that the world has gone completely down the sewer?

(By the way, the only TV instance I know about involving dirty word #4 -- The Word That Dare Not Speak Its Name -- is when Jane Fonda said it on the "Today" show a few months ago. It's out there if you want to see. I am not about to link to it. I believe that's the definition of Not Safe For Work.)

Beyond the decline of Western civilization, what Carlin made me think about is where he falls in the Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame.

To me there is one and only one unanimous selection. Richard Pryor is Babe Ruth (shattered all known boundaries of his field) plus Jackie Robinson (crossed racial lines because he was so good, white audiences had to respect him). His first movie -- well, it's not really a movie, it's just his stand-up routine on film -- is the single funniest thing I've ever seen.

From Richard on down it's sort of a pyramid. My next group: Johnny Carson, Robin Williams (although he's got the Willie Mays thing of playing far past his prime), Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Steven Wright.

After that I'd put in Steve Martin, Sam Kinison (guilty pleasure), Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, and, I swear, the early Dennis Miller. I went with a bunch of friends to see him at Wake Forest maybe 15 years ago and we were laughing so hard we needed those little drop-down oxygen masks they have in case your plane is about to crash. Dennis has gone all Fox News now, which is fine, but he is no longer funny, which is not fine at all.

Never, ever, ever in my Comedians Hall of Fame: Andrew Dice Clay.

This is all off the top of my head so of course I'm missing some -- Dave Chappelle, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Cosby... Who else you got?

While you're thinking about it, here's George Carlin at his (non-dirty) best, on baseball vs. football.


Anonymous said...

I'm really going to miss George. He wasn't afraid to tell it like it is. Everyone is SO afraid of the truth these days, but he wasn't. I saw him in Vegas and boy was that a great show. I consider him the thinking man's comedian, he actually thought about things.

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Anonymous said...

Agree with you on Pryor. But your trip to see Dennis Miller at Wake was actually 17 years ago -- how time flies -- in Oct. 1991. I know. I went with you, along with Clint and Cranny. Red Top opened, Dennis had a cold and didn't have his "A" game but did do some laugh-out-loud riffs on the Anita Hill hearings. We all raced back to Charlotte to catch the Braves and Pirates in the NLCS. If memory serves, Avery threw a gem to keep the Braves alive. Man, those were the days. Hope you're doing better. Patricia McCarter says hi. Old friend from Huntsville.

LIGuy said...


Carlin's #2 (of the 7) is the infamous "F-Bomb" which is reserved for HBO and Comedy Central after 11pm.

cialis online said...

He really was an excellent performer, I attended many of his shows, they were always good.RIP.