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George Denis Patrick Carlin (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008) was an American stand-up comedian and social critic. He was also an actor and author, and he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums.

Carlin was noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects. Carlin and his "Seven Dirty Words" comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a narrow 5–4 decision by the justices affirmed the government's power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

The first of his 14 stand-up comedy specials for HBO was filmed in 1977. In the 1990s and 2000s, Carlin's routines focused on the flaws in modern-day America. He often took on contemporary political issues in the United States and satirized the excesses of American culture. His final HBO special, It's Bad for Ya, was filmed less than four months before his death.

Carlin was placed second on the Comedy Central cable television network list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, ahead of Lenny Bruce and behind Richard Pryor. He was a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show during the three-decade Johnny Carson era, and hosted the first episode of Saturday Night Live.

Early life

Carlin was born in New York Citymarker, the son of Mary Beary, a secretary, and Patrick Carlin, a national advertising manager for the New York Sun. Carlin was of Irish descent and was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.

Carlin grew up on West 121st Street, in a neighborhood of Manhattanmarker which he later said, in a stand-up routine, he and his friends called "White Harlemmarker", because that sounded a lot tougher than its real name of Morningside Heightsmarker. He was raised by his mother, who left his father when Carlin was two months old. After 3 semesters, at the age of 15, Carlin involuntarily left Cardinal Hayes High Schoolmarker and briefly attended Bishop Dubois High School in Harlem. Carlin had a difficult relationship with his mother and often ran away from home. He later joined the United States Air Force, training as a radar technician. He was stationed at Barksdale AFBmarker in Bossier City, Louisianamarker.

During this time he began working as a disc jockey on KJOE, a radio station based in the nearby city of Shreveportmarker. He did not complete his Air Force enlistment. Labeled an "unproductive airman" by his superiors, Carlin was discharged on July 29, 1957.

Career

In 1959, Carlin and Jack Burns began as a comedy team when both were working for radio station KXOL in Fort Worth, Texasmarker. After successful performances at Fort Worth's beat coffeehouse, The Cellar, Burns and Carlin headed for California in February 1960 and stayed together for two years as a team before moving on to individual pursuits.

1960s

Within weeks of arriving in California in 1960, Burns and Carlin put together an audition tape and created The Wright Brothers, a morning show on KDAY, Hollywood. The comedy team worked there for three months, honing their material in beatnik coffeehouses at night. Years later when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker, Carlin requested that it be placed in front of the KDAY studios. Burns and Carlin recorded their only album, Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight, in May 1960 at Cosmo Alley in Hollywood.

In the 1960s, Carlin began appearing on television variety shows, notably The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. His most famous routines were:
  • The Indian Sergeant ("You wit' the beads... get outta line")
  • Stupid disc jockeys ("Wonderful WINO...") — "The Beatles' latest record, when played backwards at slow speed, says 'Dummy! You're playing it backwards at slow speed!'"
  • Al Sleet, the "hippie-dippie weatherman" — "Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening, with some widely-scattered light towards morning."
  • Jon Carson — the "world never known, and never to be known"
Variations on the first three of these routines appear on Carlin's 1967 debut album, Take Offs and Put Ons, recorded live in 1966 at The Roostertail in Detroitmarker, Michiganmarker.

During this period, Carlin became more popular as a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show, initially with Jack Paar as host, then with Johnny Carson. Carlin became one of Carson's most frequent substitutes during the host's three-decade reign. Carlin was also cast on Away We Go, a 1967 comedy show. His material during his early career, which included impressions, and his appearance, which consisted of suits and short-cropped hair, has been seen as "conventional", particularly when contrasted with his later anti-establishment material.

Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce's arrest for obscenity. As the police began attempting to detain members of the audience for questioning, they asked Carlin for his identification. Telling the police he did not believe in government issued IDs, he was arrested and taken to jail with Bruce in the same vehicle.

1970s

Eventually, Carlin changed both his routines and his appearance. He lost some TV bookings by dressing strangely for a comedian of the time, wearing faded jeans and sporting long hair, a beard and earrings at a time when clean-cut, well-dressed comedians were the norm. Using his own persona as a springboard for his new comedy, he was presented by Ed Sullivan in a performance of "The Hair Piece," and quickly regained his popularity as the public caught on to his sense of style.

In this period he also perfected what is perhaps his best-known routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television", recorded on Class Clown. Carlin was arrested on July 21, 1972 at Milwaukee'smarker Summerfest and charged with violating obscenity laws after performing this routine. The case, which prompted Carlin to refer to the words for a time as, "The Milwaukee Seven", was dismissed in December of that year; the judge declared that the language was indecent, but Carlin had the freedom to say it as long as he caused no disturbance. In 1973, one man complained to the FCC after listening with his son to a similar routine, "Filthy Words", from Occupation: Foole, broadcast one afternoon over WBAI, a Pacifica Foundation FM radio station in New York Citymarker. Pacifica received a citation from the FCC, which sought to fine Pacifica for violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting "obscene" material. The U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker upheld the FCC action, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was "indecent but not obscene", and the FCC had authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience. (F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978). The court documents contain a complete transcript of the routine.)

The controversy only increased Carlin's fame. Carlin eventually expanded the dirty-words theme with a seemingly interminable end to a performance (ending with his voice fading out in one HBO version, and accompanying the credits in the Carlin at Carnegie special for the 1982-83 season), and a set of 49 web pages organized by subject and embracing his "Incomplete List Of Impolite Words".

Carlin was the first-ever host of NBC's Saturday Night Live, on October 11, 1975. (He also hosted SNL on November 10, 1984, where he appeared in sketches. The first time he hosted, he only appeared to perform stand-up and introduced the guest acts.) The following season, 1976-77, Carlin also appeared regularly on CBS Television's Tony Orlando & Dawn variety series.

Carlin unexpectedly stopped performing regularly in 1976, when his career appeared to be at its height. For the next five years, he rarely appeared to perform stand-up, although it was at this time he began doing specials for HBO as part of its On Location series. His first two HBO specials aired in 1977 and 1978. It was later revealed that Carlin had suffered the first of his three non-fatal heart attacks during this layoff period.

1980s and 1990s

In 1981, Carlin returned to the stage, releasing A Place For My Stuff, and he returned to HBO and New York City with the Carlin at Carnegie TV special, videotaped at Carnegie Hallmarker and airing during the 1982-83 season. Carlin continued doing HBO specials every year or every other year over the following decade-and-a-half. All of Carlin's albums from this time forward are the HBO specials.
's acting career was primed with a major supporting role in the 1987 comedy hit Outrageous Fortune, starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long; it was his first notable screen role after a handful of previous guest roles on television series. Playing drifter Frank Madras, the role poked fun at the lingering effect of the 1960s psychedelic counterculture. In 1989, he gained popularity with a new generation of teens when he was cast as Rufus, the time-traveling mentor of the titular characters in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and reprised his role in the film sequel Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey as well as the first season of the cartoon series. In 1991, he provided the narrative voice for the American version of the children's show Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, a role he continued until 1998. He played "Mr. Conductor" on the PBS children's show Shining Time Station, which featured Thomas the Tank Engine from 1991 to 1993, as well as the Shining Time Station TV specials in 1995 and Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales in 1996. Also in 1991, Carlin had a major supporting role in the movie The Prince of Tides, which starred Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand.

Carlin began a weekly Fox Broadcasting sitcom, The George Carlin Show, in 1993, playing New York City taxicab driver "George O'Grady". He quickly included a variation of the "Seven Words" in the plot. The show ran 27 episodes through December 1995.

In 1997, his first hardcover book, Brain Droppings, was published, and sold over 750,000 copies as of 2001. Carlin was honored at the 1997 Aspen Comedy Festival with a retrospective George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy hosted by Jon Stewart.

In 1999, Carlin played a supporting role as a satirical Roman Catholic cardinal in filmmaker Kevin Smith's movie Dogma. He worked with Smith again with a cameo appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and later played an atypically serious role in Jersey Girl, as the blue collar father of Ben Affleck's character.

2000s

In 2001, Carlin was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual American Comedy Awards.

In December 2003, California U.S. Representative Doug Ose introduced a bill (H.R. 3687) to outlaw the broadcast of Carlin's seven "dirty words," including "compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms)." (The bill omits "tits," but includes "asshole," which was not part of Carlin's original routine.) This bill was never voted on; the last action on this bill was its referral to the House Judiciary Committee on the Constitution on January 15, 2004.

The following year, Carlin was fired from his headlining position at the MGM Grand Hotelmarker in Las Vegasmarker after an altercation with his audience. After a poorly received set filled with dark references to suicide bombings and beheadings, Carlin stated that he could not wait to get out of "this fucking hotel" and Las Vegas, claiming he wanted to go back East "where the real people are". He continued to insult his audience, stating
"People who go to Las Vegas, you've got to question their fucking intellect to start with.
Traveling hundreds and thousands of miles to essentially give your money to a large corporation is kind of fucking moronic.
That's what I'm always getting here is these kind of fucking people with very limited intellects."
An audience member shouted back that Carlin should "stop degrading us", at which point Carlin responded "Thank you very much, whatever that was. I hope it was positive; if not, well blow me." He was immediately fired by MGM Grand and soon after announced he would enter rehab for alcohol and prescription painkiller addiction.

For years, Carlin had performed regularly as a headliner in Las Vegas. He began a tour through the first half of 2006, which culminated in his thirteenth HBO Special on November 5, 2005 entitled Life is Worth Losing, which was shown live from the Beacon Theatre in New York Citymarker, and in which he stated early on that "it's been 341 days since I got out of rehab", that being the same rehab he entered after being fired from MGM. Topics covered included suicide, natural disasters (and the impulse to see them escalate in severity), cannibalism, genocide, human sacrifice, threats to civil liberties in America, and how an argument can be made that humans are inferior to animals.

On February 1, 2006, Carlin mentioned to the crowd, during his Life is Worth Losing set at the Tachi Palace Casino in Lemooremarker, Californiamarker, that he had been discharged from the hospital only six weeks previously for "heart failure" and "pneumonia," citing the appearance as his "first show back."

Carlin provided the voice of Fillmore, a character in the Disney/Pixar animated feature Cars, which opened in theaters on June 9, 2006. The character Fillmore, who is presented as an anti-establishment hippie, is a VW Microbus with a psychedelic paint job, whose front license plate reads "51237" — Carlin's birthday.

Carlin's last HBO stand-up special, It's Bad for Ya, aired live on March 1, 2008, from the Wells Fargo Center for the Artsmarker in Santa Rosa, Californiamarker. Many of the themes that appeared in this HBO special included "American Bullshit," "Rights," "Death," "Old Age," and "Child Rearing." Carlin had been working the new material for this HBO special for several months prior in concerts all over the country.

On June 18, 2008, four days before his death, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Artsmarker in Washington, D.C.marker announced that Carlin would be the 2008 honoree of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which was awarded on November 10, 2008. Carlin thus became the award's first posthumous recipient, a decision the Kennedy Center made after consulting with both Carlin's family and PBS (which aired the ceremony). The comedians who honored him at the ceremony included Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Lily Tomlin (a former Twain Humor Prize winner herself), Lewis Black, Denis Leary, Joan Rivers, and Margaret Cho.

Personal life

In 1961, Carlin married Brenda Hosbrook (August 5, 1936 – May 11, 1997), whom he had met while touring the previous year. The couple had a daughter, Kelly, in 1963 but aborted a second pregnancy (in an underground, illegal, operation) in 1970, feeling they were unable to handle a second child at that stage in their life. In 1971, George and Brenda renewed their wedding vows in Las Vegas. Brenda died of liver cancer a day before Carlin's sixtieth birthday, in 1997.

Carlin later married Sally Wade on June 24, 1998, and the marriage lasted until his death – two days before their tenth anniversary.

In December 2004, Carlin announced that he would be voluntarily entering a drug rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for his dependency on alcohol and vicodin.

Carlin did not vote and often criticized elections as an illusion of choice. He said he last voted for George McGovern, who ran for President in 1972 against Richard Nixon.

Religion

Although raised in the Roman Catholic faith (which he describes anecdotally on the albums FM & AM and Class Clown), Carlin became an atheist and often denounced the idea of a God in interviews and performances, notably with his "Religion" and "There Is No God" routines as heard in You Are All Diseased.

Carlin also joked in his first book Brain Droppings that he worshiped the Sun, one reason being that he could see it. This was later mentioned in You Are All Diseased, along with the statement that he prayed to Joe Pesci (a good friend of his) because "he's a good actor," and "looks like a guy who can get things done!"

In his HBO special Complaints and Grievances, Carlin introduced the "Two Commandments," a revised "pocket-sized" list of the Ten Commandments ending with the additional commandment of "Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself."

Themes

Carlin's material falls under one of three self-described categories: "the little world" (observational humor), "the big world" (social commentary), and the peculiarities of the English Language (euphemisms, doublespeak, business jargon); all sharing the overall theme of (in his words) humanity's "bullshit", which might include murder, genocide, war, rape, corruption, religion and other aspects of human civilization. He was known for mixing observational humour with larger, social commentary. His delivery frequently treated these subjects in a misanthropic and nihilistic fashion, such as in his statement during the Life is Worth Losing show:



Language was a frequent focus of Carlin's work. Euphemisms that in his view, seek to distort and lie, and the use of language he felt was pompous, presumptuous or silly, were often the target of Carlin's routines. When asked on Inside the Actors Studio what turned him on, he responded "Reading about language". When asked what made him most proud about his career, he said the amount his books have sold, close to a million copies.

Carlin also gave special attention to prominent topics in American and Western Culture, such as obsession with fame and celebrity, consumerism, Christianity, political alienation, corporate control, hypocrisy, child raising, fast food diet, news stations, self-help publications, patriotism, sexual taboos, certain uses of technology and surveillance, and the pro-life position, among many others.

Carlin openly communicated in his shows and in his interviews that his purpose for existence was entertainment, that he was "here for the show". He professed a hearty schadenfreude in watching the rich spectrum of humanity slowly self-destruct, in his estimation, of its own design, saying, "When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front-row seat." He acknowledged that this is a very selfish thing, especially since he included large human catastrophes as entertainment. In his You Are All Diseased concert, he elaborated somewhat on this, telling the audience, "I have always been willing to put myself at great personal risk for the sake of entertainment. And I've always been willing to put you at great personal risk, for the same reason!"

In a late-1990s interview with radio talk show host Art Bell, he remarked about his view of human life: "I think we're already 'circling the drain' as a species, and I'd love to see the circles get a little faster and a little shorter."

In the same interview, he recounted his experience of a California earthquake in the early-1970s as: "...an amusement park ride. Really, I mean it's such a wonderful thing to realize that you have absolutely no control... and to see the dresser move across the bedroom floor unassisted... is just exciting." Later he summarized: "I really think there's great human drama in destruction and nature unleashed and I don't get enough of it."

A routine in Carlin's 1999 HBO special You Are All Diseased focusing on airport security leads up to the statement: "Take a fucking chance! Put a little fun in your life! ... most Americans are soft and frightened and unimaginative and they don't realize there's such a thing as dangerous fun, and they certainly don't recognize a good show when they see one."

Carlin had always included politics as part of his material (along with the wordplay and sex jokes), but by the mid-1980s had become a strident social critic, in both his HBO specials and the book compilations of his material. His HBO viewers got an especially sharp taste of this in his take on the Ronald Reagan administration during the 1988 special What Am I Doing In New Jersey? broadcast live from the Park Theatre in Union Citymarker, New Jerseymarker.

Death and tribute

On June 18, 2008, it was announced that Carlin was to be awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by the Kennedy Centermarker on November 10, the ceremony of which would be later broadcast on PBS as George Carlin: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize in February 2009.

On June 22, 2008, Carlin was admitted to Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California after experiencing chest pains. He died later that day at 5:55 p.m. of heart failure. Carlin was 71 years old. His death occurred one week after his last performance at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and he had further shows on his itinerary. According to his wishes, Carlin was cremated, with his ashes scattered, and no public or religious services of any kind were held. Two of the networks he performed on changed their schedule in tribute to Carlin. HBO devoted several hours to broadcast eleven of Carlin's fourteen HBO specials from June 25 to June 28, 2008, including a twelve-hour marathon block on their HBO Comedy channel. Meanwhile, NBC scheduled a rerun of the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live which Carlin hosted.

Both Sirius Satellite Radio's "Raw Dog Comedy" and XM Satellite Radio's "XM Comedy" channels ran a memorial marathon of George Carlin recordings the day following his death. Another tribute was the "Doonesbury" comic strip on Sunday, July 27, 2008.

Louis C. K. dedicated his stand-up special Chewed Up to Carlin.

Lewis Black dedicated his entire second season of Root of All Evil to Carlin.

An episode of Larry King Live paid tribute to Carlin, featuring comics Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, Roseanne Barr and Lewis Black. Carlin's daughter and brother were also interviewed by King. The next day, The New York Times published a tribute to Carlin written by Jerry Seinfeld.

The Kennedy Center awarded Carlin the Mark Twain Prize on November 10, 2008. It was the first time the award had been given posthumously. The ceremony was broadcast in a 90-minute program on PBS February 4, 2009, and featured retrospective film clips of Carlin, as well as testimonials by Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Garry Shandling, Lily Tomlin, Denis Leary, Joan Rivers, Lewis Black, Richard Belzer and Margaret Cho.

An oral history, edited by Carlin's daughter, Kelly, is scheduled to be published in 2009. The book will contain stories from Carlin's friends and family, and cover the considered high points of his career, as well as the considered low, including his drug and alcohol addiction.

For a number of years prior to his death Carlin had been compiling and writing his autobiography, planning to release it in conjunction with a second long worked on project, a one man Broadway show–tentatively titled New York City Boy–covering essentially the same topics. After his death his collaborator on the projects, Tony Hendra, edited the autobiography for release as Last Words (ISBN 1439172951). The book covers Carlin's life up to around Life is Worth Losing, with the final chapter detailing would-be future plans, including the planned one man show. The book was released one year and four months after Carlin's death.

Collection of works

Discography

See George Carlin discography


Filmography

Year Movie
1968 With Six You Get Eggroll
1976 Car Wash
1979 Americathon
1987 Outrageous Fortune
1989 Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
1990 Working Trash
1991 Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
The Prince of Tides
1999 Dogma
2001 Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
2003 Scary Movie 3
2004 Jersey Girl
2005 Tarzan II
The Aristocrats
2006 Cars
2007 Happily N'Ever After


Television



HBO Specials

Special Year
George Carlin at USC 1977
George Carlin: Again! 1978
Carlin at Carnegie 1982
Carlin on Campus 1984
Playin' with Your Head 1986
What Am I Doing in New Jersey? 1988
Doin' It Again 1990
Jammin' in New York 1992
Back in Town 1996
George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy 1997
You Are All Diseased 1999
Complaints and Grievances 2001
Life Is Worth Losing 2005
It's Bad for Ya 2008
  • "All My Stuff", a boxset of Carlin's first 12 stand-up specials (excluding George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy) with bonus material was released in September 2007
  • In 1998, Carlin had a cameo playing one of the funeral-attending comedians in Jerry Seinfeld's HBO special I'm Telling You For The Last Time. In the funeral intro (the only thing being buried is Jerry Seinfeld's material) Carlin learns that neither friend Robert Klein nor Ed McMahon ever saw Jerry's act. Carlin did, and enjoyed it, but admits "I was full of drugs."


Bibliography

Book Year Notes
Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help 1984 ISBN 0-89471-271-3
Brain Droppings 1997 ISBN 0-7868-8321-9
Napalm and Silly Putty 2001 ISBN 0-7868-8758-3
When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? 2004 ISBN 1-4013-0134-7
Three Times Carlin: An Orgy of George 2006 ISBN 978-1-4013-0243-6 A collection of the 3 previous titles.
Watch My Language 2009 Posthumous release
Last Words 2009 Posthumous release


For several years before his death, Carlin had been working on a memoir, Last Words, in collaboration with writer Tony Hendra. Hendra secured permission from Carlin's family to go ahead with the book. It is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint on November 17, 2009.

Audiobooks



Internet hoaxes

Since the birth of spam email on the internet, many chain-forwards, usually rant-like and with blunt statements of belief on political and social issues and attributed to being written (or stated) by George Carlin himself, have made continuous rounds in the junk email circuit. The website Snopes, an online resource that debunks historic and present urban legends and myths, has extensively covered these forgeries. Many of the falsely-attributed email attachments have contained material that runs directly opposite of Carlin's viewpoints — with some being especially volatile toward racial groups, gays, women, the homeless, etc. Carlin himself, when he was made aware of each of these bogus emails, would debunk them on his own website, writing to his readers that "Nothing you see on the Internet is mine unless it comes from one of my albums, books, HBO specials, or appeared on my website", and "it bothers me that some people might believe that I would be capable of writing some of this stuff."

References

External links




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