No Right Explanation

Pudding and Swear Words


Last week the guys debated who was the best stand-up comedian and now they further that debate in print form for you and you alone.


Dan: “Comedy is subjective.” That’s a pretty useful blanket statement for just about any and every situation where personal preference is used regarding humor. What makes one person laugh isn’t sure to make anyone else laugh, so trying to pick the definitive “best” comedian, you’re going to run into a number of contentions. From where I was sitting, “best” here can only mean “widest appeal” rather than “everyone will agree without question.” Going into the great Cosby vs Carlin debate, people seemed to think that by selecting my choice as Bill Cosby for best comedian ever, I was saying that George Carlin was inferior, not to mention that anyone unmentioned was either snubbed unrightfully so or somehow forgotten because we just weren’t being careful with our choices.

Well, you’re wrong on all accounts there.

I can’t for the life of me think of arguments that Kyle should have made either for Carlin or against Cosby that he didn’t already state. Honestly, I think we did a pretty solid job this time of not only selecting two very well-loved comedians that we were both knowledgeable in, but also in debating for our points reasonably and fully. There’s nothing left without taking low shots here and there. Mainly, Kyle didn’t go into how Cosby has become a caricature in his later years and I didn’t go into how Carlin just started doing every live performance by rote instead of really living on the stage.

The reaction from viewers to Cosby being included is interesting, as well as Carlin’s obvious inclusion in the debate (with which I can easily agree ). It seems that people hold Carlin up as being one of the true comedians, not necessarily because of how funny he was (which he very much was), but because he had the iconic “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” bit and everyone just wants an excuse to utter them all verbatim without any meaning behind them whatsoever. The bit lost all meaning a long time ago, not for any fault of Carlin’s mind you, but entirely because teenagers started believing themselves “edgy” by spewing out a handful of swears that a genuinely funny man once said. You’re not George Carlin, random kid in 7th grade. Knock that off and go comment ironically about My Little Pony some more.

Back to Cosby, the trend in the comments was to slam his inclusion exclusively because of Jell-O Puddin’ Pops. Okay, congrats, you’re able to recognize an apparently effective marketing campaign from a while ago. To me, you ask someone about Cosby and they’ll rattle off the usual “Oh man, he talks like an idiot and then starts saying things about Jell-O and Kodak!” But then you ask them if they’ve seen any of his stand-up and they look at you like you’re crazy. “I saw some episodes of his TV show a while ago.” Not the same. Ever seen Bill Cosby Himself? Ever listened to Wonderfulness or Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow Right? Those routines are genius on a level few others have ever been able to match, and none of them are reliant on shock humor, strong language, or gimmicks (and no, I’m not saying Carlin does any of those things).

On the other side of the coin, George Carlin is remembered for those seven words that we all know. And then … well a good portion of us remember A Place for My Stuff and maybe a little here and there about the difference between football and baseball or some odd bit, but then … ? Admit it, a good half of those quickly shouting that Cosby is all about Jell-O Pudding also know Carlin only as far as the seven words you can’t say on TV.

Again though, regarding any other comedian that wasn’t included in the list of two that go into a debate, we didn’t forget anyone. We simply excluded them for the sake of a debate. No hard feelings or anything as there are dozens of comics I love to death, with Jim Gaffigan and Louis C.K. being two of my favorites currently working (and their $5 downloadable specials were magnificent for more reasons than just being hysterical, so go download those immediately). We specifically opened the door for the chance of a different option coming through, and a few are certainly making a good case for themselves, which I’m delighted to see as it got great discussion going and hopefully some exposure of otherwise unthought of comedians to a good deal of commenters (widening your comedy scope is always healthy).

But at the core, this was Kyle and I again arguing for our favorites, and they happened to be George Carlin and Bill Cosby, respectively. I’d be happy with either coming away with the win here, to be honest. I’d just naturally be more happy if it were my choice.


Kyle: One thing that Chris maintains about Bill Cosby that makes him the better comedian is the idea that he is funny as hell while working clean. I understand the sentiment here perfectly. He’s clean, meaning he doesn’t have to rely on obscene or grotesque words/imagery in order to sell his material to an audience. And it’s true, of all the comedians who “work clean,” Cosby is one of the funniest.

My counter-argument is that George Carlin never, in his forty-plus years of show-business, had to rely on cursing or depicting obscene comedy. He did it anyway, because he refused to put boundaries on his comedy. He trusted an audience to be able to handle his material, warts and … mostly warts, actually. And because of it, I felt smarter as an audience member. I felt as if I was being spoken to, not spoken at.

And that really brings me to the big argument for Carlin. What are these comedians remembered for? Sure, there are a select few that remember how wonderful Cosby was during Himself and To My Brother, Russell, Whom I Slept With. But the majority of people remember Cosby from Kodak and Jello commercials (or more accurately, they remember him from the bad impressions of him doing the commercials), or from Kids Say the Darndest Things and possibly Fat Albert. Really, it’s a travesty, but it’s true.

Meanwhile, Carlin is remembered for countless comedy bits performed live, on-stage, sometimes in cathedrals of show-biz like Carnegie Hall and the Beacon Theatre. “Seven Dirty Words” is the most famous, but everyone who knows of Carlin immediately thinks of their favorite bit. “Losing Things,” or “Capital Punishment” or even “Baseball and Football” are staples. And everyone has a different favorite, which just goes to show what kind of longevity he had and the diverse range of material.

Sorry if I’m going off but just like the last debate, I feel strongly about my choice. While Bill Cosby is a family entertainment treasure, George Carlin has his own chapter in the History of Comedy. Possibly his own volume.

How else can I put this? George Carlin made fun of my first name when I was just a child. Look up his bit about goofy boy names, and his chief victims are Todd, Tucker, and Kyle. It’s hysterical. And I thought so when I was at that age where you could have killed me with an insult. But I never felt as if George was insulting me. Sure, I have an unfortunately soft name, and I’m cursed with being aware of it. But at the same time, he said it so no one else had to. You can’t hold that shit over an old man making an old man grievance. All you can do is laugh and agree.

That’s the raw power of George. He was a creative whirlwind, and he couldn’t be bothered if you fell behind due to his subject matter or your offended pride. Comedians like Louis C.K. and Bill Hicks followed George along this path of “I don’t care what you think of me, this is the truth” and they reaped the creative benefits from it. Whereas there are thousands of crappy open-mic enthusiasts who try their hand at observational, family-friendly humor thanks to Cosby.

There you go. I just found the essential difference. Cosby is a humorist. Carlin was a comedian.


Dan: Stand up comedy is something that not everyone likes, which is a very odd concept to me. Perhaps they don’t like a particular routine, but why would anyone dislike a fellow human being standing on a stage and telling jokes? There’s no harm or hidden motives in that, yet it is a cup of tea that does not belong to all of us. That being said, I think that most of those who would claim to dislike stand up really haven’t found their perfect match of comedians. And as Chris mentioned above, comedy is very subjective.

Points, however, are not subjective. I am the judge and I get the final word. And, evidently, I didn’t have a final word and tossed it to you, the audience. Fair enough, but at least let me explain the points that I did award, to perhaps sway any undecided voters out there.

First point went to Kyle because it is true that Carlin has a much broader palette of comedy styles on his easel. I actually streamed a routine on Netflix of his last weekend, and let me tell you, it was pretty impressive how varied his jokes got. Very good to diversify if you want to be king of all stand ups, and he did exactly that.

Yes, I did watch Carlin last weekend, and yes I was impressed at his variety. No, I did not laugh. Was he not funny? Of course, he was funny, but he wasn’t funny to me. I don’t find his kind of abrasive humor that ticklish, and that’s just my taste. Cosby, however, transcends time, and tastes. He is funny no matter what type of mood you are in, and that is why Chris got the second point.

Kyle comes back with the argument that Carlin tried to achieve something with the use of profanities in his routine. Cosby has, mostly recently, tried to shift public opinion and views using his celebrity status, but Carlin has always tried to teach people as much as entertain them. That is a pretty good measure of a really good comedian. Just look at what Stewart and Colbert have achieved.

I want to make a quick note here that Chris did not get any points by stating that Cosby had a very funny and successful sitcom career. That reflects on his ability as a comedian, but not as a stand up comedian. See, I’m not asleep at the wheel.

Chris did, however, get a point for actually having a personal experience with Cosby. No<, that’s not [b]why/b> he got the point, but the example of how a simple exchange led to a very funny moment is definitely a point waiting to be given. I can’t help but think that if that had been Carlin asking that question and someone answered for Chris, what followed would have been a successive string of swear words that would only be funny to a select few. Funny yes, but not all encompassing.

And there you have it, the reasons for the points that lay where they may. It is interesting how many comedians are being brought up on the message boards, and I think we got more comments on this video than any other video to date. Time to whip Kyle until he tallies up the votes, and we will announce who you feel is the winner on Thursday, as always.

I leave you with a joke that my late uncle made up.

Two boys are playing and the older one smells the air, then grimaces and turns to the other.
“Did you fart?”
“No,” says the younger boy, “I didn’t fart”
The two boys continue to play and then the older boy sniffs the air again and asks again,
“Did you fart?”
“No, I told you, I didn’t fart!”
The two boys play for a little longer, and the older boy sniffs the air a final time, and yells,
“Just admit it, you farted!”
To which the little boy yells back,
“I didn’t fart…I pooped!”

Ah, comedy.

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.