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Why Was George Carlin Arrested in Milwaukee?

Comedy has evolved significantly through the years. Topics and words considered taboo in the past are now sometimes regarded as hilarious if delivered correctly. George Carlin, one of the most outstanding comedians in history, saw through the so-called evolution of comedy, but did you know he got arrested for it?

“Seven Dirty Words” was one of George Carlin’s famous routines as a standup comedian. Milwaukee officials considered the act a violation of its state’s obscenity laws, which led to Carlin’s arrest on July 21, 1972.

Who was George Carlin?

Born on May 12, 1937, George Denis Patrick Carlin was raised by a single, devout Irish Catholic mother who worked as a secretary to support her children. Being raised in an Irish Catholic culture, Carlin attended parochial school and soon became an altar boy. His negative religious sentiments came during his time as an altar boy.

Carlin soon enlisted in the Air Force in 1954 and was stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana. During this time, he moonlighted as a disc jockey at a local radio station. He received numerous disciplinary actions and was even court-martialed before he was eventually discharged in 1957.

Carlin’s career in comedy started when he paired up with Texan newscaster Jack Burns in 1959. They then relocated to Hollywood and were able to secure appearances in The Tonight Show with Jack Parr, with the help of Lenny Bruce. Carlin became a standup comic in the early 1960s and enjoyed moderate success.

By the mid-seventies, Carlin reinvented his image, portraying a less conventional and somewhat vulgar comedy which usually contained his disillusioned attitude toward the world in which explored the highly sensitive issues of Vietnam, politics, religion, American culture, drugs, the demise of humanity, and the right to free speech. Carlin evolved from a clean-cut, suit-wearing comedian of the sixties to a long-haired, bearded hippie.

Carlin continued to be a comedian well into the early 2000s and received a star in the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987. He also starred in several movies like Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and Dogma and lent his voice to children’s tv shows like Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends. (Source: Biography)

Seven Dirty Words

In 1972, Carlin created a new act to be included in his Class Clown album. His seven-minute routine was titled Seven Dirty Words, with its underlying message directed to the corporate control of the entertainment industry and to the society in general who, at that time, refused to accept that language is already evolving. (Source: The Atlantic)


Carlin’s routine was rebellious, with its opening line stating there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven you can’t say on television. Carlin would then deliver the seven words he is referring to in the form of a list. (Source: Mark Walston)

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