In the pantheon of the best standup comedians, George Carlin is likely sitting at the head of the table, alongside Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, and Phyllis Diller. The best George Carlin quotes emphasize he was far more than just a standup comic: he was a philosopher, unafraid to muse intensely on hot-button topics like religion, society, politics, and human nature. Though it's difficult to pare the Carlin philosophy down to one single line, his maxim, "think off-center," comes close. Carlin's out-of-the-box ideology is his lasting legacy. The fact that he was hilarious, too, is just icing on the cake.
George Carlin was born in New York City in 1937. After a stint in the Air Force, he became a radio DJ, which led him to standup comedy. His stream-of-consciousness performances became his trademark, and Carlin would go on to amass legions of fans and win multiple awards, including several Grammys and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He passed in 2008 at the age of 71.
Regardless of how well versed you are in his career, it's difficult to deny every time Carlin made a good point.
He Feared For America's Future Political ClimatePhoto: Charlie Rose/PBS
Carlin did not disguise his fear for the future of American politics. He once said, "anyone can become president. That’s the problem," regarding the democratization of the country and the risk of placing unqualified people in power.
In a routine called "The Public Sucks," Carlin pointed out that, "if you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to have selfish, ignorant leaders."3,84863Do you agree?
He Broke Down Rights Versus PrivilegesPhoto: Saturday Night Live/NBC
Later in his career, Carlin challenged the difference between rights and privileges:
Rights. Boy, everyone in this country is always running around yammering about their f*cking rights. I have a right, you have no right, we have a right, they don't have a right... Folks, I hate to spoil your fun, but there's no such thing as rights, okay? They're imaginary. We made them up! Like the Boogie Man... the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, Mother Goose, sh*t like that.
Rights are an idea, they're just imaginary, they are a cute idea... but that’s all: cute and fictional. But if you think you do have rights, let me ask you this, where do they come from? People say, 'Well, they come from God, they're God-given rights.' Aw f*ck, here we go again... the God excuse. The last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument, 'It came from God.' Anything we can’t describe must have come from God...
Rights aren't rights if someone can take 'em away. They're privileges, that's all we've ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter and shorter.3,48781Do you agree?
He Turned A Spotlight On The American Thirst For ConflictPhoto: Saturday Night Live/NBC
Carlin used comedy to discuss America's conflict-obsessed ideology:
We like war; we are warlike people. We like [it] because we are good at it. You know why we are good at it? Because we get a lot of practice. This country is only 200 years old, and already we have had 10 major wars. We average a major war every 20 years in this country, so we are good at it!
And it's a good thing we are; we are not very good at anything else anymore. Can't build a decent car, can't make a TV set or VCR worth a f*ck. Got no steel industry left, can't educate our young people, can't get health care for our old people, but we can bomb the sh*t out of your country alright!3,04469Do you agree?
He Thought The American Dream Was A Scheme
Carlin didn't buy into the "American Dream:"
The reason education sucks and will never, ever, ever be fixed is... because the owners of this country don't want that... I'm talking about the real owners, the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you.
They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long since bought and paid for the Senate and Congress, the statehouse, the city halls. They have the judges in their back pockets. They own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear...
We know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking - well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking... That doesn't help them. That's against their interest... They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly sh*ttier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And now, they're coming for your Social Security money... They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know something, they'll get it... It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I ain't in the big club...
They don't care about you at all, and nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. That's what the owners count on... It's called the "American Dream," because you have to be asleep to believe it.2,39356Do you agree?