Work/Life: R.I.P. George Carlin

It has taken me all week to realize that George Carlin is dead. He was so cavalier about the subject (his final HBO special featured a long rant on his blithely crossing off the names of dead friends in his address book), that it’s hard to view the mere fact of his kicking the bucket as tragic; but the lack of his voice out there on the stage and in the world qualifies as a downer to say the least. I worked in comedy for many years, and though I never met George, he was the kind of guy you felt was speaking right to you anyway. And we live in a culture wherein a whole lot of people we never meet become part of who we are (for some, Martha Stewart, for others, George Carlin).

And George Carlin, perhaps more than anyone, was truly a work/life balance comedian. No matter what he screamed about, it was always in aid of cutting through the b.s. and getting us to see that we were mired in our own ridiculous picture of how things are supposed to go. And he skewered everything, including what we all do for a living. ("If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?") The fact that he went from buttoned-down observational jokes to society-skewering diatribes is only fitting. In his comedy, he started out merely working, and by the end he was diving fully into life and all its contradictions. He also suffered from some addictions, and managed to stay married for over thirty years, so on that score he must have known something about how to keep things in perspective.

Carlin loved to say that he enjoyed watching the human race slowly circling the drain of their own extinction, but anyone who kept on getting out there and commenting on our foibles must have felt some glimmers of hope for his species, too. By way of a woefully inadequate tribute to the now late legend, I hereby borrow from the Carlin lexicon and send out a cautionary screed of my own concerning the subject of this very blog. In fact, some of the hindrances to getting work and life on the same track may very well be in the words we use to keep them separate. With that in mind, may I present:

THE SEVEN WORDS YOU CANNOT SAY IN THE WORKPLACE

  • Tenderness
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Play
  • Childish
  • Non-competitive
  • Carefree

Not exactly a laugh riot, but I like to think these words could prove just as shocking to the establishment as that famous and more cathartic list of so-called obscenities. Sure, ultimately my attempt at immortality is not as funny as George Carlin. But then again, few things were.

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