George Carlin and the Jewish question

US comedian dies, leaving behind legacy of caustic social criticism.

By NATHAN COHEN
June 24, 2008 21:35
3 minute read.
George Carlin and the Jewish question

carlin star 224 88. (photo credit: AP)

For Israeli comedian and author Charley Warady, the death of George Carlin, the American iconic counterculture comic, is shocking and sad. But as Carlin likely would have wanted, Warady and others are still able to laugh. "He was one of the reasons I wanted to go into comedy," Warady said Tuesday. "I guess my first reaction was all my childhood heroes are getting old." Certainly not comedy for the 'nice Jewish boy' (or girl), Carlin, who died Sunday in Santa Monica, California, at 71, was famous for hilariously dissecting Western culture and railing against government, business and religion. Many Jewish and Palestinian comics say their comedy was influenced by Carlin. Raised Catholic until he reached "the age of reason," he saw no problem with delving into the nuances of religion, especially his own, but didn't let Judaism escape his clutches, as seen by this comparison of Jewish synagogue and Catholic church practices: "Catholic men and Jewish women [wear] no hats. Catholic women and Jewish men, hats," said Carlin in his most recent television special, It's Bad for Ya. "Somebody's got the whole thing totally f***ing backwards, don't you think?" Carlin recorded 23 comedy albums, performed 14 television specials on Home Box Office, wrote three best-selling books, and appeared in several movies and TV shows. Last week, it was announced that Carlin would receive the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. His broad appeal explains why each comic interviewed was influenced by Carlin in a different way. "Without him there might not be a Jerry Seinfeld," said, stand-up comedian and blogger Benji Lovitt, who grew up in Dallas and made aliya in 2006. "Even if he wasn't Jewish, what makes [Carlin] Jewish was his ability to laugh at things. What makes us Jewish is our ability to turn complaining into humor. He was complaining, but there was a wink and a smile." Carlin's Catholic background accounted for much of his appeal in the Jewish community, Chicago native Warady said. "I've been doing comedy for 20 years," said Warady. "It's funny how the Catholics and Jews always related to each other because we were raised with a structure, and as comedians we were always trying to avoid structure... The Protestants do whatever they want. They don't know what Jews and Catholics go through." While Carlin's most famous bit was about the seven words that can't be said on American television, when Charley and three other comic friends travel on their Israel Palestinian Comedy Tour, their adapted bit is the seven things Israelis and Palestinians can't say to one other. They are 'I respect you, I will honor you, I will be fair to you, I will not kill you, I will not slander you, I will make peace with you, and I still believe in hope,' said Ray Hanania, the sole Palestinian comedian on the tour. "Actually, I always thought he was either Arab or Jewish and just changed his name because he was always talking about Jesus in his routines," Hanania said in an e-mail. A third comic on the tour, Yisrael Campbell, who was raised Catholic in Philadelphia and is now an Orthodox Jew, also credited Carlin. "He was one of the first people I heard criticize the church and not get struck by lightning," Campbell said. "He took comedy to the place it is today, where I can stand up at an Orthodox dinner in New York." For Hanania, Carlin's passing will have no effect on the power of his words. "When the messenger dies, it doesn't mean the message goes with him. His seven words are still here and hard to say on TV or in any media," said Hanania. "Our seven words will always be there for Palestinians and Israelis, waiting for them to speak."


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