In the world of pop culture, some people are so consistent, so seemingly always there that their death catches you completely off guard. George Carlin, with his HBO specials and constant touring (in my four years in Ithaca, I saw him twice, and Ithaca isn't exactly a hotbed of comedy), was one of those guys, and when I saw the news of his death on the cover of the newspaper this morning, it didn't seem possible. Some celebrities you just assume will always be around, no matter how illogical that sounds.
People with a higher regard for stand-up than I can more easily debate Carlin's place among the all-time greats, but I always found him to be on point and pretty damn funny. When you heard his act, it was clear that he had rehearsed it and honed it to perfection, yet it always seemed fresh and completely unforced. The jokes were often so smart and well-crafted that even when you didn't necessarily agree with his viewpoint--and maybe even were in the crowd he was skewering--you still had to admire the craft and precision of his attack. And for a guy who delivered material that was as clever as it was funny, he never came off as pedantic or gave off a smarter-than-you vibe. He was a man of the people, saying the things you thought but could never say quite that way. I'm sure there will be stand-ups that will come along and be as funny or maybe even funnier than Carlin, but I doubt there will ever be another one quite like him.
Rest in peace, George.