George Carlin's Comedian Bio
George Denis Patrick Carlin (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008) was a Grammy-winning American stand-up comedian, actor, and author.
Carlin was especially noted for his political and black humor and his observations on language, psychology, and religion along with many taboo subjects. Carlin and his "Seven Dirty Words" comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a narrow 5-4 decision by the justices affirmed the government's right to regulate Carlin's act on the public airwaves.
Carlin's most recent stand-up 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.
He placed second on the Comedy Central cable television network list of the 10 greatest stand-up comedians, ahead of 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 was also the first person to host Saturday Night Live.
Career and early life
Born in New York, New York, George Carlin grew up on West 121st Street, in a neighborhood of Manhattan which he later said he and his friends called "White Harlem", because that sounded a lot tougher than its real name, "Morningside Heights". "General Grant was one of my neighbors," he would say later. He was raised by his mother, who left his father when Carlin was two years old. At age 14 Carlin dropped out of Cardinal Hayes High School and later joined the United States Air Force, training as a radar technician. He was stationed at Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana.
During this time he began working as a disc jockey on KJOE, a radio station based in the nearby city of Shreveport. He did not complete his Air Force enlistment. Labeled an "unproductive airman" by his superiors, Carlin was discharged on July 29, 1957. In 1959, Carlin and Jack Burns began as a comedy team when both were working for radio station KXOL in Fort Worth. After successful performances at Fort Worth's beat coffeehouse, The Cellar, the two headed for California in February 1960 and stayed together for two years as a team before moving on to individual pursuits.
In the 1960s, Carlin began appearing on television variety shows, notably The Ed Sullivan 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 can be found on Carlin's 1967 debut album, Take Offs and Put Ons, recorded live in 1966 at The Roostertail in Detroit, Michigan.
During this period, Carlin became more popular as a frequent performer and guest host on The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson era, becoming 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.
Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce's arrest for obscenity. According to legend the police began attempting to detain members of the audience for questioning, and 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.
George Carlin's 1972 arrest photograph
(arrest report: Page 1 Page 2)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 a beard and earrings at a time when clean-cut, well-dressed comedians were in vogue. 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, a routine which offended some. Carlin was arrested in 1972 at Milwaukee's Summerfest and charged with violating obscenity laws after performing this routine. In 1973, a man complained to the FCC that his son had heard a later, similar routine, "Filthy Words", from Occupation: Foole, broadcast one afternoon over WBAI, a Pacifica Foundation FM radio station in New York City. Pacifica received a citation from the FCC, which sought to fine Pacifica for allegedly violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting "obscene" material. The U.S. Supreme Court 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 controversy only increased Carlin's fame (or notoriety). 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". Ironically, the court documents contain a complete transcript of the routine, perhaps validating what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said: "You cannot define obscenity without being obscene."
Carlin was the first-ever host of NBC's Saturday Night Live, debuting on October 11, 1975. (He also hosted SNL on November 10, 1984, where he actually appeared in sketches. The first time he hosted, he only appeared to perform stand-up and introduce the guest acts.) The following season, 1976-77, Carlin also appeared regularly on CBS Television's Tony Orlando & Dawn variety series.
In the 1970s, Carlin became known for unpredictable performances. He would walk off if no one laughed, verbally insult the audience, or simply not appear.
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 heart attacks during this layoff period.
1980s and 1990s
In 1981, Carlin returned to the stage, releasing A Place For My Stuff, considered by many to be his best album since Class Clown, and making a triumphant return to HBO (and to his hometown) with the Carlin at Carnegie special videotaped at Carnegie Hall 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.
By 1989, Carlin had become popular with a new generation of teens when he was cast as Rufus, the 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 & Friends, a role he continued until 1998. He played "Mr. Conductor" on the PBS children's show Shining Time Station which featured Thomas from 1991 to 1993 as well as Shining Time Station TV specials in 1994 and Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales in 1997-1998. Also in 1991, Carlin had a major supporting role in the movie Prince of Tides along with Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand.
Carlin began a weekly sitcom, The George Carlin Show, cast as "George O'Grady", a New York City cab driver, for the Fox Broadcasting Company in 1993. He quickly included a variation of the "Seven Words" in the plot. The show lasted 27 episodes before being canceled in December 1995.
In 1997, his first book, entitled Brain Droppings, was released, which had sold over 750,000 copies as of 2001.
In 1999, Carlin returned with an appearance in Kevin Smith's film Dogma as a greedy Roman Catholic cardinal. He worked with Smith again with a cameo appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and in an unusual change, Carlin portrayed a prominent, serious role in Jersey Girl as the blue collar dad of Ben Affleck's character.
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 "ass" and "asshole", which were not part of Carlin's original routine.)
In 2004, George Carlin was ranked #2 on Comedy Central's 100 greatest standups of all time list, just behind Richard Pryor.
For years, Carlin has performed regularly as a headliner in Las Vegas. He began a tour through the first-half of 2006, and had a new HBO Special on November 5, 2005 entitled Life is Worth Losing, which was shown live from the Beacon Theatre in New York City. 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 Lemoore, California, 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 Pixar animated feature Cars, which opened in theatres on June 9, 2006. The character Fillmore is a VW Microbus, whose front license plate reads "51237" — Carlin's birthday — and is also the zip code of a town in Iowa named George.
Carlin's next stand up special has a tentative title of Parade of Useless Bullshit and is scheduled for release in 2008.
In 1961, Carlin married Brenda Hosbrook (born June 12, 1939, died May 11, 1997), whom he had met while touring the previous year, in her parents' living room in Dayton, Ohio. The couple had a daughter, Kelly, in 1963. In 1971, George and Brenda renewed their wedding vows in Las Vegas, Nevada. Brenda died of liver cancer a day before Carlin's sixtieth birthday, in 1997.
In December 2004, Carlin announced that he would be voluntarily entering a drug rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for his dependency on alcohol and painkillers.
Carlin does not vote and often criticizes elections as an illusion of choice. He said he last voted for George McGovern, who ran for President in 1972.
Although born and raised in the Roman Catholic faith, Carlin has often denounced the idea of God in interviews and performances, most notably with his "Invisible Man in the Sky" and "There Is No God" routines. In mockery he invented the parody religion Frisbeetarianism for a newspaper contest. He defined it as the belief that when one dies "his soul gets flung onto a roof, and just stays there", and cannot be retrieved.
Carlin has also facetiously stated he worships the Sun, because he can actually see it, but prays to Joe Pesci (his good friend in real life) because "he's a good actor", and "looks like a guy who can get things done!"
Carlin also introduced a revised list of the Ten Commandments in his HBO special Complaints and Grievances, ending with "Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself."
"Here for the show"
Carlin openly communicates in his shows and in his interviews that his purpose for existence is entertainment, that he is "here for the show". He professes 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 acknowledges that this is a very selfish thing, especially since he includes large human catastrophes as entertainment.
In a late-1990s interview with 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 recounts 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 summarizes: "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 has always included politics as part of his material (along with the wordplay and sex jokes), but by the mid-1980s had become a strident and perceptive 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 City, New Jersey.
Carlin's themes have been known for causing considerable controversy in the general media. His most usual topic is (in his words) humanity's "bullshit", which might include murder, genocide, war, rape, corruption, and other aspects of human civilization. His delivery frequently treats these subjects in a misanthropic and nihilistic fashion, such as in his statement during the Life is Worth Losing show: "I look at it this way... For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers... so when nature strikes back, and smacks man in the head and kicks man in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse."
Language, from the obscene to the innocuous has always been a focus of Carlin's work. Euphemisms that seek to distort and lie, and generally the use of pompous, presumptuous and downright silly language are often the target of Carlin's works.
Carlin also gives special attention to prominent topics in American Culture 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, among many others.
Posted on Monday, October 8, 2007
In: George Carlin, Famous Male Comedians, American Comedians
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