Profanity made George Carlin famous, but as his earliest fans grew up and got serious, he used a new tactic to attract younger generations.
George Carlin died five years ago today after a long standup comedy career built on a very “not-safe-for-work” routine. His 1972 “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” got Carlin arrested, prompted a U.S. Supreme Court censorship case, and endeared Carlin to a Boomer audience that was ready to push the boundaries of good taste in the name of free speech.
Profanity made Carlin famous, but as his earliest fans grew up and got serious, he used a new tactic to attract younger generations: good, clean fun. Though Carlin continued doing standup throughout his life – and his standup never did clean itself up – he began a second career as a genial silver-screen funnyman when he took on a series of family-friendly roles.
Carlin had several small parts in films before 1989, but it was his role as futuristic Rufus in cult-classic teen flick Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure that brought him to the attention of Generation X – the children of his original audience.
Ten years later, that new crop of fans had grown up and was ready for Carlin to inject a bit of his trademark social commentary into a movie role. That made him perfect for the satirical role of Cardinal Glick in Dogma, delivering a riff on the declining popularity of the Catholic church.
In 2006, the grandchildren of Carlin’s first fans learned how funny he was as he voiced the aging-hippie Volkswagen bus Fillmore in Disney-Pixar’s Cars.
Whether he was shocking early audiences or keeping it clean for the kids, George Carlin knew how to entertain generations of fans. Carlin was fun for the whole family.