George Carlin Performs His “Seven Dirty Words” Routine: Historic and Completely NSFW

Okay, this is George Carlin’s infa­mous bit “Sev­en Words You Can Nev­er Say on Tele­vi­sion,” so please don’t watch it at work. That said, a bit of con­text: Car­lin, arch com­ic satirist and inci­sive social crit­ic, orig­i­nal­ly per­formed this rou­tine in Mil­wau­kee in 1972. Car­lin is delib­er­ate­ly push­ing the enve­lope here, and he’s pay­ing homage to the great Lenny Bruce, who was per­se­cut­ed by cen­sors and police, and hound­ed out of work, more or less, for doing what Car­lin does above—poking fun at our Amer­i­can squea­mish­ness about the body, sex­u­al­i­ty, and reli­gion. With Eliz­a­bethan glee, Car­lin takes sev­en words from Bruce’s orig­i­nal nine and reduces them to absur­di­ties. As we all know–South Park and pay cable excepted–most of these words are still taboo and can send cer­tain view­ers, media watch­dogs, and con­gress peo­ple into fits.

Carlin’s point is exact­ly that—people squirm when they hear obscene words, as though the lan­guage itself had some mag­i­cal­ly destruc­tive pow­er, but as he says, “there are no bad words. Bad thoughts, Bad inten­tions,” sug­gest­ing that the prob­lem lies in the minds and hearts of those who assume that quar­an­ti­ning cer­tain uses of lan­guage will keep us from cer­tain ideas and acts they fear—or in his own irrev­er­ent voice, that some words “will infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the coun­try from win­ning the war.…” Car­lin was arrest­ed after his Mil­wau­kee appear­ance when an audi­ence mem­ber com­plained, but a Wis­con­sin judge deter­mined that his speech was pro­tect­ed. Lat­er, when the bit was broad­cast by a New York radio sta­tion, legal trou­ble ensued once again, and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1978 that the gov­ern­ment had the right to restrict tele­vi­sion and radio broad­casts in case chil­dren were lis­ten­ing. Car­lin, who died in 2008 at the age of 71, said of the case, “My name is a foot­note in Amer­i­can legal his­to­ry, which I’m per­verse­ly kind of proud of.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Great George Car­lin Showed Louis CK the Way to Suc­cess (NSFW)

George Car­lin: The Mod­ern Man in Three Min­utes

Con­for­mi­ty Isn’t a Recipe for Excel­lence: Wis­dom from George Car­lin & Steve Jobs (NSFW)

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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