George Carlin vs. Mark Twain – Can You Pick? (plus: Exclusive TV Preview)

Jon Stewart gives an example of Carlin’s brilliance (exclusive footage from a special appearing tonight on PBS, 9pm ET).

I first saw George Carlin around age 10. Much later, I discovered Mark Twain and realized both were philosophers of the same school: The Trojan Horse.

Twain and Carlin were experts at making important points with humor, oftentimes addressing topics that, even in Twain’s time, wouldn’t hit the politically-correct mainstream otherwise. Other skilled Trojan Horse comedians include Stephen Colbert (example from his speech following George W. Bush) and Chris Rock.

Motivated and pissed off by the rules and senseless authority of their times, both used humor via plain and simple language to poke fun where more than fun was at stake.

Separated at birth: Can you guess who said the following quotes, Carlin or Twain?…

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.

Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.

I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t.

I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.

Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.

Let us be thankful for the fools; but for them the rest of us could not succeed.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.

It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you: the one to slander you, and the other to get the news to you.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.

“It’s never just a game when you’re winning.”

I don’t have hobbies; hobbies cost money. Interests are quite free.

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.

I’m not concerned about all hell breaking loose, but that a PART of hell will break loose… it’ll be much harder to detect.

Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.

Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.

People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think.

Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?

Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.

I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.

Every quote from “It’s never just a game when you’re winning” (the only quote in quotation marks) and down is Carlin.

For exclusive uncensored video clips of Carlin, visit The Laugh Button, a new site I’ve helped a friend prep for launch, where you can also find free album tracks and highlights. Think of it as a combination of Pandora and YouTube for stand-up. I am not an investor, just an avid fan of stand-up and philosophies you can use, which are often the same thing.

Don’t miss tonight’s PBS tribute to Carlin with never-before-seen footage and some of your favorite comedians, including Jon Stewart, Garry Shandling, Margaret Cho, Denis Leary, and Lewis Black. The Mark Twain Prize will air on PBS stations nationwide (Wednesday, February 4) at 9pm ET.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

33 Replies to “George Carlin vs. Mark Twain – Can You Pick? (plus: Exclusive TV Preview)”

  1. Interesting quotes. I have heard a few of them but seeing all of them lined up creates a sense of awareness. Is your blog set for a finite time?

    Cheers from Sunny Dallas,

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  2. I was fortunate enough to see Carlin when he came to IU. I wish our politicians had half as much sense as our comedians.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for a while (it’s an RSS module on my Yahoo homepage) – after my brother bought me your book – now finally I have something to say.

    Thank you SO much for introducing me to George Carlin. The latest comic I ‘discovered’ was Mitch Hedberg. An amazing surrealist whom I love, but George Carlin is in an altogether different league. Very political AND very funny? An extremely hard act to pull off.

    Many thanks

  4. I used to listen to George Carlin and other comedians every sunday night when I was about 12. There was an hour of “funnys” after the doctor demento show. It was a nice way to start the week.

  5. I’m a big fan of both people, but I’ve never seen a list done like that. Very well done, they’re more similar than I realized. If it weren’t for the differences in sentence structure, you could hardly tell the difference. They have the same great ability for calling out the absurdities we take for granted.

  6. I’ll definitely have to Tivo this. I remember the first time I heard a record of his in the 70’s. A friend and I found his dad’s ‘stash’ of records and had to check them out, the two that still stand out today are George and Bill Cosby before he was famous. Thanks, I would have missed the show otherwise!

  7. Both Twain and Carlin are very insightful, and very funny. Humor is important… I’ve found that if you’re with a big group of friends and two people are arguing, the funny one wins, right or not.

    The observations that apply to my and your life are great, we can see the absurdity and make necessary changes (Tim, your book has this feature as well).

    But what about the absurdities that we have no control over? (I went to laugh button and “American Double Standard” comes to mind) Since the time of Twain they’ve been pointed out, but what can we do about them? Talk is cheap.

  8. Tim

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Watching those youtube videos brought back some sweet memories. Times siting in front of the tv as a kid and seeing it happen in real time. For some time I have tracked your real time online postings. They have been so helpful with my future plans. One more thing to mention. I wanted to also say I have tracked your blog for over the last year. The advice and comments have impaceted me alot. From this blog and the book I have created my own wordpress website. There are, my first webpages, for my new online voice lesson business. It blends my love of acting, coaching and innovative business ideas. Check it out, and all who read this posting and send comments. I laugh at where I was, am and plan on being over the next year. The 4 hour work week is definitely a possibility for me in 2009.

  9. Hey Tim,

    I think George Carlin’s “seven things you can’t say on television” to this day is one of the funniest pieces of comedy ever created. I used him (via my ipod) many times to help change my state- especially through airports.



  10. Carlin is great there is no doubt, but I love a good Mark Twain quote. Is there any authoritative book on Twain? A good biography maybe that is full of his one liners and philosophies?

  11. Actually I think Twain was reincarnated as Carlin. My favorite from above is –

    Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.

    I think that falls right into line with most visionaries and pioneers… Great post.

    Good Luck,

    Dana Gundlach

  12. First time I saw Carlin I was 8. I had no idea who he was. It was just there on the Ed Sullivan show and he was telling this story about hair. “And where is the hair on a pear? No where, mon frere…” I wouldn’t die for comedy, but every once in a while it’s refreshing to remember that there is always a funny side to life and if you can laugh at your own you’re much further ahead than most people.

  13. You have to love wordsmiths who not only entertain and make you think. I hope this comedy will continue in others despite the fact that our attention spans have shrunk a bit. It’s not fast food comedy… more like a multi-course meal.

  14. Heya Tim.

    Great post, as usual. What you call “The Trojan Horse”, I think other call “giving fake heads”, as in making the students work on programing a video game to make them learn about algorithms and networking: it is a great way to teach, illustrated in part in Randy Paush’s “The last lecture” (given your line of writing, I guess you already know about it, and if you don’t I think you might want to see it). ->

    While I am at it, I would also point Randy Paush video about Time Management: call me stupid but I never realized before seeing that video that I needed to manage my time even more than my money (because my salary is increasing but not the number of hours in a day)… ->

    One question about a previous post: eating eggs in the morning to get a breakfast rich in proteins seems to work well for me (especially in combination with the even earlier post about eating some fruit in the evening to wake up in a better less tired the next morning), but I was raised to be afraid of cholesterol, and taught that I should not eat more than one egg a week. Did you check on that?

    Last question: I followed one of your tweeter links to the article about Wozniak and his work on SuperMemo. Part of what he is saying is corroborating my own experience (I do keep track of my sleeping pattern and I did banish the alarm clock more than 10 years ago), but I am weary the way he draws conclusion from his self-experiments or very limited data sets. Given that you mentioned a previous interest in learning languages and studying sleeping problems and optimization, I would be interested in reading a post doing a critical review of Wozniak’s conclusions, beyond the debates of the difference between understanding high science and learning flashcards .

    I think your writing improved since the beginning of your blog, continue to inform and amuse us!

    Jeremy LeJyBy

    1. @Jeremy,

      I am a huge fan of much of what Randy wrote and preached. He is a good reminder for us. For the eggs, I generally now have one whole egg with whites otherwise, and I scramble all together. You can also use EggBeaters or other egg white product. I take high-dose garlic and Slo-Niacin (brand name) prior to bed to also positively affect blood cholesterol, but I suggest you get a complete metabolic panel drawn via your doctor to track your levels.

      On Wozniak and SuperMemo, I agree that it can be dangerous to draw permanent conclusions from small data sets. However, I do think that REPEATABLE small data sets gathered from personal experiments are often much more useful than general study conclusions that are oft misinterpreted.

      Hope that helps!


  15. George Carlin was a great man and his brutal honesty is what made him so damn funny. He called out anything and everything that made no sense. I really the miss guy, not the I knew him or anything.

    There are two quotes that I particularly like from the list (although all of them were good).

    “Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”

    Twain had it figured out. The lemming mentality is not for me anymore. I know far too much now to ever get back into the rat race with all others who still have their blinders on. There is so much more to this world than just a job and your “stuff”.


    “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”

    Enough said, Carlin nailed it. Pun intended.

  16. I had the good fortune to see Carlin live three times. I agree with one of the previous comments – I miss him. I loved his take on comedy: that he just tells us stuff we already know but forgot to laugh at the first time it happened. His unique way of looking at the world was something special. A great example: The very existence of flamethrowers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

  17. Tim,

    I too saw Carlin for the first time when I was 10 years old and he changed the way I looked at life from that moment on. I have Carlin quotes and Twain quotes on my home page that I read everyday and those two keep you thinking because they questioned everything, nothing was sacred. Carlin’s later work some may not find as funny but he became brutally honest and his social commentary at the end covered a wide scope of controversial subjects most people are afraid to speak out on. Thanks for the great fun and beautiful post.

    Many thank you’s!

    Support Frisbeetarianism!

  18. When I was around 9 or 10 I grabbed a handful of change and moseyed on down to the used record store and bought my first piece of vinyl: AM/FM. An excellent investment I still think. Barbies were not my thing.

  19. Tim, Interesting you didn’t mention Lenny Bruce. I don’t approve of him, but he was important in his day. Is Lenny Bruce too vile for you, or are you just not aware of him?

    And of course there’s Oscar Wilde and G. K. Chesterton. Those two had real class, though I think Chesterton was usually more correct. Have you heard of them?


  20. Tim,

    Thank you for posting and helping set up the Laugh Button – awesome website.

    I wish they’d have more Daniel Tosh 😀

    “Shut up Anna Kournikova! No one talks to the Rock like that, b*tch!”

    Leo S.

  21. Leo,

    “….which is funny because Daniel doesn’t even have a girlfriend” 😉

    We’d love more Daniel Tosh- as soon as he puts it together! He’s one of our personal favorites and we do know there’s talks of a new one in the works. When it comes together we’ll be sure to do an exclusive preview!

    Thanks for the kind words about our site!


    The Laugh Button

  22. So I was looking for the “Slow-Carb” Breakfast post and found this one, how crazy that my two biggest obsessions(besides travel, cars, and marathon running)- 4HWW and the “philosophies” of Carlin have such a connection!

    Go figure that the one I turn to for economical/lifestyle suggestions/advice is such a fan of the one I turn to for philosophical advice 🙂

    And oh yea, you forgot Bill Maher, although he does come off as an elitist(he did go to an Ivy League school, then again, so did Tim) and does lean a lil’ too left for my tastes, along with Lewis Black and Chris Rock they are like the sons that George never had.

    PS- last night watched “It’s Bad For Ya” with the family

  23. Almost forgot- was lucky enough to see him in Aurora, IL from the front row in Jan ’07. It was the greatest birthday gift ever!