They say you should never meet your heroes. I've found this a good rule to live by, but as with any rule, there's always an exception.
My first exposure to George Carlin was in 1982, when HBO aired his "Carlin at Carnegie" stand-up special. When I saw the advert—featuring a clip of Carlin talking about the clichéd criminal warning of "Don't try anything funny," and then adding, "When they're not looking, I like to go …," followed by a brief explosion of goofy expressions and pantomime—I immediately asked my parents if I could tape it on our new BetaMax video recorder.
That was a hilarious bit. But when I finally watched the special, Carlin blew my doors off. Whether he was spinning a yarn about Tippy, his farting dog, or analyzing the contents of his fridge, Carlin expressed himself not only humorously, but amazingly eloquently as well. I was, as they say, in stitches.
And that was before he got to the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television.
I was 12 years old, watching a man many years my senior curse a blue streak while exposing the hypocrisy of a medium (and a society) that couldn't deal with the public usage of terms they probably employed regularly in their private lives. And while he seemed to revel in being a rebel, here was a man who also clearly loved the English language, warts and all—even the so-called "bad words" (although, as George would say, there are no such things as "bad words"). I wouldn't say George Carlin taught me obscenities, but I would definitely say he taught me that the casual use of obscenities wasn't reserved just for drunken sailors, as the old chestnut goes; even intelligent people were allowed to incorporate them into their everyday conversations (because George was nothing if not intelligent).
From that moment forward, I was an instant Carlin disciple. I bought every album, watched every HBO special, and even sat through "The Prince of Tides" just because he played a small role in the film. I spent years turning friends on to the Cult of Carlin, the World According to George, and even made pilgrimages to see him perform live (the first occasion being a gig at Farleigh Dickinson University in 1988). Carlin influenced my speech and my writing. Carlin replaced Catholicism as my religion.