Forget about all the cursing: All it took was mocking J. Edgar Hoover and his G-Men to make “George Carlin” two dirty words at the FBI.
The late comedian’s FBI file contains two letters from citizens, sent in 1969 and 1970, complaining he made fun of Hoover and the Bureau in separate TV appearances, the Associated Press reported.
The FBI boss apparently sent a thank-you note to one of the letter writers, and asked his underlings, “What do we know of Carlin?” the 12-page file shows.
There’s no mention, amazingly enough, of Carlin’s infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” routine, which got him arrested and led to a landmark Supreme Court free speech case.
The AP obtained the file from Carlin’s daughter, who said he had requested it years ago. He must have been disappointed the dossier was so thin – and no doubt amused that it further exposed Hoover’s notoriously thin skin.
The letters in the file date from the period when Carlin had just transformed from a clean-cut comedian who performed clever-but-safe material, into the long-haired, bearded, irreverent comic voice of the counterculture.
The extraordinary thing about Carlin was that he didn’t mellow as he got older – if anything, he became more cynical about human nature the longer he observed it. He relentlessly targeted authority and hypocrisy, acidly assailing society and the absurdities of life, sparing no one. "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately," he once said.
Now Carlin is getting the last laugh: Hoover, these days, is remembered at best as a punchline attached to cross-dressing jokes, and at worst, as a cautionary tale of government paranoia and abuse of power.
Shortly before Carlin's death last year at age 71, he learned he was to be given the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for America Humor by the Kennedy Center. The posthumous tribute is set to air on PBS Feb. 4.
Watch an excerpt from George Carlin's monologue on the first "Saturday Night Live":
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.