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.
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."
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.
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!
Later in his career, Carlin offered parenting advice:
Don’t just teach your children to read... Teach them to question everything that they read, everything they hear. Children should be taught to question authority.
Parents never teach their children to question authority because parents are authority figures themselves, and they don't want to undermine their own bullsh*t inside the household. So, they stroke the kid, and the kid strokes them, and they all stroke each other, and they all grow up all f*cked up, and they come to shows like this.