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Remembering America's Philosopher-Comic

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When it comes to comedy, the late George Carlin did it all. He was both playful and grim. He did wordplay, one-liners and epic prose-poems; old coots and kindergarten sound effects; gentle, giggly observations, brutal satire aimed at all humankind and, of course, one timeless routine about a certain seven words.

If there was one style of comedy Carlin sometimes avoided, it was topical humor. It doesn't age well, he felt.

But Carlin's comedy was always profoundly topical, in that he ceaselessly questioned the institutions -- governments, religions, armies, big business -- that bring us the bad news on a daily basis. Two years to the day (June 22) after Carlin's death, we could use a fresh dose of his wicked -- and righteous -- insight.

The ready-made material that has come around since his death at age 71 would have tickled the opinionated Irishman pink. What would Carlin have made of the BP oil spill? How about the papal cover-up, or the never-ending Washington gridlock, or the "Tonight Show" debacle? Or the high school principal who banned the nonsense word "meep"?

None of it would have surprised the philosopher-comic in the least. F--k hope, he joked near the end. His utter lack of faith in the ability of his fellow human beings to do the right thing lost Carlin more than a few longtime fans in recent years. "He got mean in his old age," they say.

Maybe so. But Mark Twain, whose eponymous Prize for American Humor was awarded to Carlin just five days before his death, said that few things are as rare as the act of a man speaking freely. Despite our constitutional freedom of speech, almost all of us will keep our most uncompromised thoughts to ourselves, Twain believed, fearing the social costs.

George Carlin never failed to say what he meant. If the truth hurts, he was a stone-cold killer.