This funny man made his mark with seven words – and affected the way we thought about comedy – George Carlin.
Establishing himself as a stand-up comedian in the 1960s, Carlin had been successful on radio as a performer and became a regular on The Tonight Show with host Jack Paar, and consequently as a fill-in host for Johnny Carson.
In the early 1970s, Carlin decided to make himself distinct in the competitive comedy field by changing his appearance. Unlike his peers who dressed in suits and looked like businessmen, Carlin grew his hair long and started wearing jeans and t-shirts.
His comedy routine was wide-ranging – American culture, death, pop culture, religion, parenting and society – and in this time period developed his most famous routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television“.
Performing at a summer festival in Milwaukee in 1972, Carlin was arrested after his performance on obscenity charges. The charges were eventually dropped against Carlin, as the judge stated he hadn’t want to cause a disturbance. Carlin nicknamed the routine the Milwaukee Seven.
In 1973, a listener complained to the Federal Communications Commission after hearing Carlin performing Filthy Words via a New York City radio station. Carlin was given a citation and the US Supreme Court ruled the act was indecent but not obscene. The ruling also encouraged radio stations to not air material that could be indecent during hours that children could hear it.
Carlin’s fame rose with the continued attention on his Filthy Words and led him to perform the routine regularly. In 1975, NBC’s comedy series Saturday Night Live debuted, and Carlin was the first host of the show.
And what were those seven words? Shit, piss, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, cocksucker, tits – which became notorious and made Carlin known to supporters and those who felt he was obscene.
In 1976 Carlin stopped performing regularly and was rarely scene on stage for the rest of the decade – it was only in the next decade that he revealed he had suffered a series of heart attacks and was ordered to take time off for his health.
I remember hearing about Carlin’s Filthy Words but not knowing what exactly they were – and to this day, although some are now more acceptable to be said on film, those words are never said on live television and almost never used in mainstream newspaper, magazines or websites.