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Carlin to Larry King: Court made 'category of filth for me'

  • Story Highlights
  • Carlin died Sunday of heart failure at the age of 71
  • In 2001 he appeared on Larry King and said he loved dissecting "trendy speak"
  • Carlin's famous bit about "Seven Dirty Words" came from curiosity
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(CNN) -- George Carlin, 71, the award-winning comic, known for his often profane, memorable monologues and routines, died Sunday of heart failure.

In this 2001 interview with Larry King, the comic talked about where he got his comedic inspiration and the story behind his famous "Seven Dirty Words" skit.

Larry King: How would you describe what you do?

George Carlin: I have three things I draw from -- always have. The English language, like the "takes the cake" thing. I love inspecting and taking apart language, things we say, trendy talk sometimes, old sayings, whatever. And then, the little world, the kind of world Jerry Seinfeld investigated to a great high level. What's in the ice box, how you drive, pets, the things in your life, things we all know.

And then what I call the big issues, but not topical. Not political in the small sense. Genocide, is good, love, you know, hatred, people dying, people getting killed, race. Anything that is stuff that will never be solved.

King: Why not political?

Carlin: Because I don't like topical. I don't mind political if I have something to say, but it's usually topical. Most political humor -- if you are talking about partisan politics, the two parties, that kind of politics, then I don't do it. But the stuff that I do is kind of political anyway, because it's about things that people argue about all the time and about social issues. But I don't like topical humor because you got to throw it away after a couple weeks.

King: You never hold back. You're critical of religion.

Carlin: Yes, I don't believe in God, and I think that it is a big scam. You can believe in God, and nobody thinks you're nuts. And there is no evidence for him at all. If you believe in UFOs, no evidence for that either, they think you are nuts. And it is the same kind of -- it's just a belief, it's a superstition. Slideshow: George Carlin sounds off »

You say, OK, well there will be an invisible guy, and he will help me when I need it. Fine. I think there are little guys in things flying around, but they say, well you can't have that. If you are professor you can't say that.

King: You grew up strict Catholic though, didn't you?

Carlin: I grew up Catholic with a twist. It was a very progressive school. We had a little homework, not much. No report cards of any kind, no quizzes, none of that stuff. This was a progressive school across from Teachers College in Columbia University. And our pastor insisted having no corporal punishment, no one was ever hit in those eight grades.

The kids wore their own clothing -- no uniforms -- and the boys and girls were together in class, and everything was open to discussion. It was called Corpus Christi School. Still does a great job turning out kids who think for themselves and have a little shot, you know, at having their religion, but still being free people.

King: When I first met George Carlin and watched you work, you were a straight comic -- suit and tie.

Carlin: So was the whole world.

King: You followed Lenny Bruce.

Carlin: Lenny was of course a guy for the '50s, and into the '60s. I broke out in the '70s.

King: Yeah, but middle '60s you caught on, right?

Carlin: Yes, as a straight [suit] and tie, that's when I got hot for the first time as a regular mainstream act, '65. Video Watch one of Carlin's appearances »

King: How did you get that idea of that, to say the seven words you can't say?

Carlin: Well, because I had spent so much time as a straight suit-and-tie guy, you know, with this leftover '50s was what the '60s -- the early '60s were really nothing but the leftover '50s and nothing really in until the mid-'60s up in Berkeley. And then '67 was the summer of love.

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So I lived through that, and then all the TV I did, you know, they'd want to hear everything. And I didn't want to say anything filthy. It's just that you had to go through all this stuff. And I always was a guy who just thought about stuff, and language especially. So I decided I would take a look at which ones you could never say, because some of them you could say. Like bitch, you could talk about a dog. You could say, well, the bitch is in this litter. You could say bastard. William the Conqueror was a bastard.

But certain words never, and I wanted to know what they were. And I figured out the seven of them and I threw them out in the next package. And they had rhythm, they had a rhythm to it. Video See the impact of Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine »

King: Radio stations couldn't play it.

Carlin: Radio stations, some did play it. And what happened was a station in New York played it. And the FCC -- one complaint, New York City, probably 25 million radios, 25 million radios, one complaint, a professional moralist, a guy from Morals and Media, with his son in the car. And he let the son listen. Apparently, they were not morally corrupted by this act.


But he listened long, he listened to the whole thing, complained to the FCC. They sanctioned the station, WBAI, tried to fine them or give them a black mark. They went to court and they won at the first level. The district court in D.C. they won 2-1. And then they got to the Supreme Court, five years later, and in 1978 the Supreme Court said 5-4 these words were indecent. They made up a whole new category of filth for me. It wasn't obscene -- indecent. And they said you can't play it when kids might listen.

And that's the rule they have, and they recently finally published the guidelines for it about 20 years later.

All About George Carlin

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