Carlin told jokes for half a century, but for the first half of his career, he wasn't a rabble-rousing, truth-bomb-dropping genius with zero filter and nary a fucks to spare. He was merely ... silly. Early Carlin was a hodgepodge of goofy faces, wacky voices, naughty words, and character comedy like the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman ("What if a guy did the weather, but on pot?"). It was funny, but mostly surface-level funny, not "inspiring comics and non-comics alike for generations to come" funny.
The large "L" means "large low-pressure center." I am not making a joke.
By the late '70s, Carlin was seriously considering leaving the comedy clubs behind, hitting Hollywood, and becoming a big important movie star. One minor issue: Due to terrible financial decisions made during the 20-year bender that was his career (not to mention a cartoonish 70 percent tax bracket), he owed the tax man over $3 million. And they tend to get awful serious with a money mountain that large, no matter how awesome you are at fart jokes. This ultimately forced Carlin to abandon the idea of scouring Hollywood for film roles, and instead embrace the road (and guaranteed money) all over again.
For the rest of his life, even after clearing his debt and guaranteeing he'd never have to do another phone ad again, he toured nonstop. Why not retire to a cushy film life as soon as financially possible? Well, because a funny thing happened on the way to the next gig: He got awesome at it. Thanks to constantly writing new jokes and constantly retelling them, his humor quickly became deeper, his delivery stronger, his arguments and analyses more logical, and his vulgarity more brutal. He truly became the George Carlin most people think of when they hear that name. The world heavyweight champion of free speech who once challenged us not to laugh at the idea of Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. The guy Comedy Central named the second greatest stand-up of all time (jobbing only to Richard Pryor). All because the IRS did that thing they do that we all hate (their job).
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