George Carlin's legacy will be as a counter-culture figure who pushed boundaries along with folks like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, ushering in an era of topical humor that now finds a home in living rooms across the country with works like The Daily Show.
His essence though, was in tamer skits such as the comparison of football and baseball (the following from Baseball Almanac):
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.
In baseball the
object is to go home!
Or, my personal favorites was A Place for My Stuff, where he observed that your stuff is stuff and other people's stuff is crap (sometimes, he used a different word).
In baseball the object is to go home!
That was Carlin's gift. He was an observer. Jerry Seinfeld was as much a inheritor of of his mantle as Jon Stewart or Bill Maher. Observation is one of the most basic elements of comedy. Carlin observed his life. He observed the world. He observed a lot of crap. And he spun all of that observation into routines that were side-splittingly funny, and he didn't worry a whole lot about who he offended along the way.
Carlin crossed the line on purpose.
Maybe most to his credit, he never stopped doing that. Yes, he mellowed with age. His Thomas the Tank Engine character was his loveliest creation. I remember watching it with one of my children and thinking, as many parents probably did, "I'm watching the guy who did the seven words you can't say on television on a kids show."
But he never took his eye off our world, and boiled it down into routines that would crack you up, make you think, maybe even offend you.
Carlin not only made us laugh, he made us observers, and he changed his art form. That's a legacy few people who pick up a microphone to tell jokes can claim.