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Showing respect for George Carlin

Written by Sharon Eberson on .

AP George Carlin

Associated Press photos

By Sharon Eberson / Tuesday, Nov. 11

As I was reading The Associated Press account of the comedians who lined up to honor the late George Carlin with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a decidedly unfunny paragraph jumped out at me:

"A handful of protesters gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Kennedy Center, some holding signs saying ‘Carlin's Going to Hell.' "

To which I couldn't help but think, "What the hell??!!"

If you can't celebrate the guy, you choose to do this? Why not carry a sign that saying "George, We're Praying For You."

But then, George Carlin was always on the attack, too. Ignorance was his most reviled enemy.

Much has been made about how George Carlin used words - the naughty "seven dirty words" he pulled out of their prudish hiding place, the everyday words that displayed how we bury ourselves in "stuff" and pigeonhole our lives in cliches.

What was being celebrated by awarding this particular prize to Carlin was his ability to deliver a knockout punch with words that made us laugh, but even moreso, made us think.

George Carlin twisted his face into silly, exaggerated expressions on stage, but he didn't need to. Even on seminal recordings like "Class Clown," even when he discussed the mundane, he challenged your intellect and tickled your funnybone. All of the editors I've had who Xed out a cliche simply because it was a cliche were in effect telling me, "You're no George Carlin."

Take this sequence from his "Modern Man" routine, reported by The Washington Post, from a Carlin clip show at Monday night's award ceremony: "I'm in-the-moment, on-the-edge, over-the-top and under-the-radar. A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary. A streetwise smart bomb. A top-gun bottom feeder ..."

Can't you see his face, contorting with every phrase, or hear his voice, putting emphasis in just the right place, in perfect comic timing, as you read those words?

AP Jon StewartJon Stewart (AP photo, right) comments on the news on "The Daily Show" (which, he has noted, runs four nights a week on Comedy Central - a wink-wink to the use of the word "daily"). At the Mark Twain award ceremony, he saluted his comic hero not just for his inspiration but for his work ethic.

"For all his antiestablishment cred, he was a working man. He punched in. He sat down and he wrote," Stewart said. "He respected what he did."

Even if you disagreed with what George Carlin had to say, you'd have to admit he earned the respect of his peers and disciples, and the laughter of millions.

Carlin, the 11th Humor Award recipient and the first to receive it posthumously, died on June 22, a week after the Kennedy Center announced that he would get the prize. The ceremony was taped for airing by PBS at a date TBA. (Past winners: http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/specialevents/marktwain/.)

The comedian's 14th and final HBO special, "It's Bad For Ya," in which he mocks death, is scheduled for release on DVD on Nov. 25. His 1984 album, "Carlin on Campus," was rereleased earlier this month.

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