Sunday, May 3, 2009

George Carlin and Playing on English

A few weeks ago, I saw a recording of an award ceremony commemorating (posthumously) the comedic talents of George Carlin, who was being honored with the Mark Twain Prize at the Kennedy Center. Listening to some of his most famous routines, I realized what a genius he was with words and wondered why I had never seriously explored his work. Take, for example, the first two minutes of his 'Advertising Lullaby.' It's an outstanding demonstration of all the advertising come-ons used in the business, but presented in such an artful way that it was pleasurable listening to it. He always considered the rhythm and sounds and carefully chose the sequence in which to put the phrases together. You can be totally mesmerized by his 'poetry in motion.' The only drawback is that, depending on the age of your students and your own sensitivity, you may need to censor the last 40 seconds of this piece. There's a lot of vulgarity in the last part. This link gives you a transcript of the lyrics without the last stanza.

Of course, George Carlin devotes some attention to seven dirty words that can't be used on television (this excerpt again would not be appropriate for school-age children). Had he not used so many 'unacceptable' words, his work would be ideal for any advanced level ESL class. His abundant profanity, however, requires caution when airing his pieces. Nevertheless, the fact that the Kennedy Center did celebrate his achievements last November, shows that he went beyond notoriety to achieve recognition as a major contributor to the development of the art of American humor.

Advanced-level students, if you can understand George Carlin's work, then you're probably near proficiency level! If you can't yet enjoy this form of entertainment, download, read and interpret the transcript of 'Advertising Lullaby.' Watch the performance again, and just listen to the music of the American spoken word interpreted by George Carlin.

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