The comedian George Carlin died recently and in a “funny” way, he’s been an important part of my life for a long time? kind of “haunting” it with laughter.

Carlin was about the power of words–something that writers WANT to believe in, but don’t really. Most of the time, people ignore what you write. They may compliment you (or more often they don’t), but then they move on, your words falling away like water off a duck’s back.

But what Carlin said and wrote mattered, because he made people MAD. He made them question their assumptions and beliefs and smug, complacent people don’t like to do that. Just being able to listen to him on HBO was a lifesaver for me, in the days when I was confronting the aggressive Christian fundamentalists of San Antonio, Texas.

Then Carlin actually APPEARED in San Antonio. I rushed to get tickets, of course, but I worried about what would happen in the theater–riots? Suicide bombings? I was surprised to see that the place was packed with other “secret” rebels, but there was only one small incident: Carlin threw a couple of hecklers out of the audience. The next day, the local paper was full of it?the AUDACITY of actually throwing out someone who had paid for a ticket!

We were doing live radio at the time and our tech, who eventually quit radio to become a croupier, went to Las Vegas often. I was telling him about this and he said, “Oh, that’s part of his act. I saw him do the same thing in Vegas.” The guys he ejected were obviously “ringers,” planted there just for that purpose. So Carlin had given me a slice of wisdom yet again, by making me see how eager we are to jump to conclusions, especially when they involve being able to gleefully criticize someone else.

Carlin used the same mail center we use when we’re in Los Angeles and I would see him there sometimes, although it’s considered very gauche in LA to go up and pump somebody’s hand under those circumstances. I first discovered he got his mail there when I saw a brand new copy of Variety sticking out of the trash can. I thought, “I’ll take this, since somebody obviously doesn’t want it,” then I was thrilled to see it was addressed to my favorite comedian.

But Carlin and I go back much farther than that. One of his favorite monologue subjects was the Catholic school he went to in Morningside Heights in Manhattan. Well, I TAUGHT at that school! When I discovered this was the place Carlin was always joking about, I tried to engage the nuns there in conversation about him, and that’s when I discovered that they STILL did not think he funny, not one little bit!

I’ve never known a “real” guru of any sort without a sense of humor?I think it comes with the territory. How could it be possible to have wisdom without humor? Perhaps that would be a good test of a religious leader’s veracity: tell him a joke and see how he reacts.

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