George Carlin on Writing

George Carlin

Whether you enjoyed his material or not, George Carlin was a gifted writer and performer with a particular talent for language. Not only in his wonderfully rhythmic word choice, but also in his ruthless linguistic dissection of the symbols we take so seriously without a second thought.

Eleven days ago, Psychology Today Senior Editor Jay Dixit interviewed Carlin by phone. Dixit went into great depth with Carlin, and the comedian himself called it “the most complete interview I’ve ever done.” It was also his final in-depth interview, as George Carlin passed away from heart failure June 22, 2008.

The whole interview is long, but great reading. Here are a few parts that stood out to me:

On Being a Writer

“I wanted to be distinguished from the ones who didn’t [write their own material], and I was proud of it, so I would say I am a comedian who writes his own material. And then at some point, I discovered what I really had become was a writer who performs his own material.”

On the Development of Ideas

“So if I write something down, some observation—I see something on television that reminds me of something I wanted to say already—the first time I write it, the first time I hear it, it makes an impression. The first time I write it down, it makes a second impression, a deeper path. Every time I look at that piece of paper, until I file it in my file, each time, the path gets a little richer and deeper so that these things are all in there.”

On Finding a Unique Angle

“One of the voguish terms, which is so repellant to me, “thinking outside the box.” To settle for that kind of language is embarrassing. But that’s a very useful picture. I try to come in through the side door, the side window, to come in from a direction they’re not expecting, to see something in a different way.”

Check out the entire interview here. And so long, George… anyone who thought to ask if there was another word for “synonym” is all right with me.

About the Author: Brian Clark is the founding editor of Copyblogger, and co-founder of Teaching Sells and Lateral Action. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (34)

  1. says

    I will sorely miss George Carlin. I remember my dad listening to Carlin records when I was a kid. He and mom would laugh hysterically – until he started working blue. At that point, it was time for me to go to bed.

    Thanks for the excerpts (and the link) Brian!

  2. says

    That interview is priceless. As a huge fan of Carlin I am sad to see him go. His mark is indelible so in a way he lives on. Hugely grateful here to see inside his process. :) I wonder who will get his archives.

    I like this best:
    ” each time, the path gets a little richer and deeper so that these things are all in there.”
    All three points are great writing advice, but in the article he also goes into self expression being so very important- that self we bring to the effort. He certainly did that, memorably so.

  3. says

    George Carlin was inspirational – in the pre-PC era and during the PC era – he was a champion of saying whatever the h*ll was really on his mind. He was a cynic and a pundit, and blazed his own trail.

    I think that’s a lot of what we aspire to be. Not a cog in a machine, but independently cutting a swath in the jungle that fits our niche.

    Thanks, Man,

    Meg Meyer

  4. says

    I will miss Carlin deeply. He made me laugh harder than any comedian ever. And in my eyes was one of the most gifted writers and linguists ever.

    I don’t think we should miss him too sorely though. After all, remember George’s commentary on the “sanctity of life.” =)

    Here’s to you George. You’ve cast a big shadow on this world. It will be difficult for anyone to ever top what you’ve done.

  5. says

    Huge Carlin fan here.

    I saw him live once and watched him flub a joke. He snapped his fingers, and started over so he could get it right.

    I also recommend an audio interview he did “On Comedy” that you can download on iTunes. Very enlightening interview about his youth and his creative process.

    “Fresh Air” also did a terrific interview with him. Look for that too.

  6. says

    A quiet person daring us to think…even about HOT water heaters! I will carry Carlin around in my pocket the rest of my life.

    The truth about common language that becomes so boring…think outside the box…takes on new energy when we try to figure out what part of the box we are viewing. Reminds me of the Creativity Toys post a few days ago.

    Thanks, Brian. The lights have been coming on this week for me!

  7. says

    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
    Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
    Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

    The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
    For nothing now can ever come to any good.

    –W.H. Auden.

  8. says

    Although I never met him, I feel like I lost a close friend. Carlin was just like that. His material was so honest and personal that he seemed to invite you in and say, “You are not alone in believing all of this is just not right.” I once had the great and esteemed privilege to interview Kurt Vonnegut. In so many way he and George Carlin were so much alike.

  9. says

    I was shocked when I heard about George Carlin passing away. He was a great comedian and so entertaining. Thanks for the link to the complete interview.

  10. jonson roth says

    “Ice Box Man” – one of his best skits, after “7 words you can’t say on radio/TV”

  11. says

    Kudos for posting this interview. Methinks that when my boxes of “stuff” are unpacked after my “passing”, someone will find a copy of your posting, Brian, and laugh their guts out. Hopefully, that will be a long long time from now, when I’m “older”.

    – Maggie
    forever fan of the hippy dippy weather man

  12. says

    I had the pleasure of watching him live. There was a tornado that touched down four blocks away, but no one left the theater, we all just laughed and listened to George. I had my ‘bottled water’ with me, ‘because we as a country are so thirsty.’

  13. says

    Vonnegut & Carlin… two great losses within 13 months or so.

    I think this sums things up about his talent:

    “Some see the glass as half-empty, some see the glass as half-full. I see the glass as too big.” George Carlin

    That, and for reasons not entirely clear, I still laugh at his poem on baldness which asks and answers the important question: “Where is the hair on a pear? Nowhere, mon frere.”

    Of course, marijuana does deserve some of the credit, at least for the last one.

  14. says

    Yeah, ‘ol George mastered his craft but he certainly wasn’t born that way. He had to work at it. Still, as he shared his work with us, made us laugh hysterically and gave us a different perspective, he was humble enough to expose his own shortcomings. That’s honesty.

    I read a piece yesterday that told of Carlin’s past tax troubles and how he dealt with it. Funny as it sounds, he actually credited the IRS for making him become a better comedian. Very Carlinesque, I know. The take-away was wow, necessity can truly be the mother of invention, or, as was the case with George, re-invention. We’ll miss him.

  15. chartreuse says

    great post Brian. I really loved Carlin. My favorite of all time. You did him justice.

  16. says

    “The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.” – George Carlin … first time i saw this, i tried to read more and more about Carlin’s works. He’s a great writer,comedian and entertainer… He’d be missed by lots of people

  17. says

    G’day again, it’s always sad when a great mind dies, unfortunately one of the all-time greats of pommie advertising died recently — Paul Arden, former Executive Creative of Saatchi & Saatchi — anyway, if you want to know more, check my blog, it’s got a link to a superb piece written by another pommie ad heavyweight, Dave Trott. Cheers mate.

  18. says

    We got one of early records as kids. (Yes, record, as in LP).

    We laughed, but we also thought because of him.

    Several of his lines on that album stayed with us
    through today.

    The day before he died, I got an emails from old friends with these subject lines:

    “That will be $2.52″ and
    “You can get ‘high’ on a plane”

    Think, then write in a way that makes others think.

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