Carlin, George 1937- (George Denis Carlin)

views updated

Carlin, George 1937- (George Denis Carlin)


Born May 12, 1937, in New York, NY; son of Patrick (national advertising manager for New York Sun) and Mary (a secretarial assistant to advertis- ing executives) Carlin; married Brenda Hosbrook, 1961 (deceased, 1997); children: Kelly.


Agent—The Glenn Schwartz Company, Inc., 101 W. 57th St., Ste. 6H, New York, NY 10019.


Stand-up comedian, actor, and writer. Worked as disc jockey for KJOE, Shreveport, LA, 1955-59; WEZE, Boston, MA, 1959; KXOL, Fort Worth, TX, 1959-60; and KDAY, Los Angeles, CA, 1960. Partner in comedy team "Burns and Carlin" with Jack Burns, 1960-62. Actor in motion pictures, including With Six You Get Eggroll, 1968; Car Wash, 1976; Americathon, 1979; Outrageous Fortune, 1987; Justin Case, 1988; Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, 1989; Prince of Tides, 1991; Cardinal Glick, 1999; Dogma, 1999; Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, 2001; Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, 2001; Jersey Girl, 2004; Tarzan Two (voice), 2005; Cars (voice), 2006; and Happily N'Ever After (voice), 2007; and in television films, including Working Trash, 1990. Regular performer on summer television shows, including The John Davidson Show, 1966, and Away We Go, 1967. Featured performer on Shining Time Station, 1992-96, and star of The George Carlin Show, Fox, 1994-95. Guest performer on over two hundred television variety shows, including Ed Sullivan, The Hollywood Palace, The Tonight Show, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1954-57.


Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists, Writers Guild of America.


Grammy Award for best comedy recording, 1972, for FM/AM, 1993, for Jammin' in New York, 2000, for Napalm and Silly Putty, 2001, and Brain Droppings; Cable Ace Awards for best stand-up comedy special on television, 1990, for George Carlin: Doin' It Again, and 1993, for Jammin' in New York; Lifetime Achievement Award, American Comedy Awards, 2001.


Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help, Running Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1984.

Brain Droppings, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

Napalm and Silly Putty, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.


(With Jack Burns) At the Playboy Club Tonight: Burns and Carlin, Era, 1962.

Take Offs and Put Ons, RCA, 1967.

FM/AM, Little David, 1972.

Class Clown, Little David, 1972.

Occupation: Foole, Little David, 1973.

Toledo Window Box, Little David, 1974.

An Evening with Wally Londo, Featuring Bill Slaszo, Atlantic, 1975.

On the Road, Little David, 1977.

Indecent Exposure, Little David, 1978.

A Place for My Stuff, Atlantic, 1982.

The George Carlin Collection, Little David, 1984.

Carlin on Campus, Eardrum, 1984.

Playin' with Your Head, Eardrum, 1986.

What Am I Doing in New Jersey?, Eardrum, 1988.

Parental Advisory—Explicit Lyrics, WEA/Atlantic, 1990.

Jammin' in New York, WEA/Atlantic, 1992.

Back in Town, WEA/Atlantic, 1996.

You Are All Diseased, WEA/Atlantic, 1999.

Complaints and Grievances, WEA/Atlantic, 2001.

Contributor to comedy recording Hey That's Funny, Warner Strategic Marketing: Rhino (Burbank, CA), 2004. Writer and performer of comedy material on televised comedy specials, including The Real George Carlin, 1973; also writer, performer, and producer for the television specials George Carlin on Location, 1977; George Carlin at Phoenix, 1978; Carlin at Carnegie, 1982; Carlin on Campus, 1984; Apartment 2C Starring George Carlin, 1985; Playin' with Your Head, 1986; What Am I Doing in New Jersey?, 1988; George Carlin—Doin' It Again, 1990; George Carlin: Jammin' in New York, 1992; George Carlin Live at the Paramount, 1992; George Carlin: Back in Town, 1996; George Carlin: Forty Years of Comedy, 1997; George Carlin: You Are All Diseased, 1999; Complaints and Grievances, 2001; and George Carlin: Life Is Worth Losing, 2006.


Books have been adapted as audio recordings read by author, including Brain Droppings and Napalm and Silly Putty, both HighBridge (St. Paul, MN), and When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, Hy- perion Audiobooks, 2004; all three books are included in the recording Three Times Carlin: An Orgy of George, Hyperion, c. 2006.


A popular comedian for over thirty years, George Carlin was born in 1937 in New York City, where even in childhood he distinguished himself among his classmates as being particularly funny. Carlin left high school after one year and joined the U.S. Air Force. Following completion of his military service, he found work as a disc jockey for various radio stations. In the early 1960s he teamed with fellow broadcaster Jack Burns to form a comedy duo. Burns and Carlin soon left radio to perform their comedy act in nightclubs around the country, and their popularity was such that they appeared together on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and released a comedy recording, At the Playboy Club Tonight: Burns and Carlin.

When the pair split up to allow Carlin to pursue a solo career, he drifted for a year before finally setting up camp in New York's Greenwich Village. There he began to create new comedy routines at the Café Au Go Go, the success of which led to regular appearances on television talk shows. Notable among his routines from this period were hyperbolic reports from various radio and television broadcasters, including a disc jockey (Wonderful Wino), a dull-witted sportscaster (Biff Barf), and a deranged, pot-smoking meteorologist (Al Sleet), who routinely informed listeners that the evening would become dark.

Although Carlin enjoyed impressive success as a comedian through the mid-1960s, he was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the trivial content of his comedy and what he termed the "middle-class morons" he was entertaining. Gradually altering his act, Carlin let his hair grow and began addressing contemporary issues, including the Vietnam War and American imperialism, censorship, and materialism. Among his more memorable routines from this time—the early 1970s—is one in which he recounts and ponders the significance of seven words that he contends can never be said on television. When a radio station aired a version of this routine (often called "Seven Dirty Words"), the resulting complaint by the FCC led Carlin to file a lawsuit which eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Through this radical reworking of his comedic content and delivery and of his appearance, Carlin developed a considerable following as a counterculture performer with particular popularity on concert hall stages and at college campuses. He enjoyed notable success with four consecutive gold comedy albums, including FM/AM, which won a Grammy Award, and Class Clown. In addition, he won acclaim with his relatively daring special The Real George Carlin, which was broadcast on syndicated television in 1973.

By the mid-1970s, however, Carlin had succumbed to the drug culture he had exploited so keenly in his work, in particular developing a preference for cocaine. After overcoming this problem, he realized further success with recordings such as An Evening with Wally Londo, Featuring Bill Slaszo and continued appearances as substitute host on The Tonight Show.

In the ensuing decades Carlin's career prospered even further through his performances in the unlikely box-office successes Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, both of which featured Carlin as a characteristically eccentric mentor to two dimwitted but enterprising youths who undertake time travels. He also appeared in actor-director Barbra Streisand's dramatic film version of Pat Conroy's novel Prince of Tides.

Although Carlin's film career broadened in the 1980s and 1990s, his television work maintained his stature as a continually inventive and engaging performer. He won acclaim with a series of ten comedy specials broadcast on HBO-TV, a cable network that allowed him complete freedom with regard to style and content. Reviewing one of these specials, George Carlin Live at the Paramount, Time reviewer Richard Zoglin observed that "Carlin remains the most daring and impassioned comedian around." In addition to his televised comedy performances, he appeared regularly on public television's children's show Shining Time Station.

In 1984 Carlin published his first book, Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help. The year 1997 saw the publication of Brain Droppings, a collection of short and long comedy pieces. A critic writing in Kirkus Reviews praised the "yuks, chuckles, guffaws, [and] ripsnorts" offered in Brain Droppings, and noted that Carlin "combin[es] a grammarian's precision with a sharp eye for the absurd." Brain Droppings was later adapted into a recording which in 2000 won Carlin won his third Grammy for best comedy album.

The pattern was repeated with the publication of Carlin's next book, Napalm and Silly Putty, which was also released simultaneously as a recording and garnered Carlin his fourth Grammy Award. Writing for Publishers Weekly, a reviewer praised the book and noted: "Over 100 scintillating short pieces are interrupted by loony lists and hundreds of clever one-liners." Carlin explained the title of the book to Marc Cooper during an interview for the Progressive: "One, it's always sort of amused me that mankind has been able to come up with a lot of things, two of them being napalm which is a jellied substance that burns and kills—and Silly Putty, which is something that you can press onto a comic and see a backwards picture of Popeye. And somewhere between these two extremes lies our truth. And I don't know how good we are at pursuing it. That's just sort of an oddball title, but it also describes kind of the two extremes of my own performing and writing personality. I have things that are strident and confrontational, and I have a lot of things that are childlike and innocent and sort of sweet. So, somewhere in between lies the middle of me."

In an interview for Book magazine, Carlin explained why he has written books, especially later in his career, instead of simply performing and recording his material. "Because I also have the ability to write for the page, for the eye," he said. "I mean all my life I've written for the voice and the ear and I knew that my writing skills, whatever they amount to, had improved over the years. I had a grasp of sentences and paragraphs that was beyond what I had imagined earlier in my life. Because language has always been an important component in my makeup and my interest, I found that it had turned into relatively good writing."

In his fourth book, When Will Jesus Bring Pork Chops?, Carlin continues his funny commentaries on social, political, and religious issues, including the Ten Commandments and plastic surgery. Todd Leopold, writing on the Web site, also noted that the author "devotes a sizable portion of the book to euphemisms, plainly presenting how marketers, government and authority figures twist language to suit their own needs." Commenting on the book's title, Carlin told Charlie Huisking of the Sarasota Herald Tribune: "What's nice is, the title offends all three major religions: Christians, Jews and Muslims, as well as the vegetarians." In a review in Booklist, Brad Hooper commented that the author "doesn't let current notions of what is politically correct stand in the way." Noting that Carlin "gets louder, angrier and more inventive with each passing year," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted on Carlin's "searing satires, stinging social commentary and oblique one-liners."

For more than four decades, Carlin has commented on politics and society through his hundreds of comedy performances and in his writings. Perhaps his success can best be summed by Carlin himself, who explained to CA: "It ain't easy, but then again, it's not so difficult, either."



Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1989, Volume 15, 1996, Volume 26, 2000.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


America's Intelligence Wire, March 25, 2004, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, "George Carlin on Indecency," interview with author; March 26, 2004, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, "Interview with George Carlin."

Book, September, 2001, "Sound Bite," interview with author, p. 85.

Booklist, September 15, 2004, Brad Hooper, review of When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, p. 178.

Chicago Tribune, March 10, 2006, "Reflecting on a 50-year Career: How Carlin's Edgy Humor Has Evolved."

Denver Business Journal, May 12, 2000, "George Carlin in the Air Force?," p. 27A.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1997, review of Brain Droppings.

M2 Best Books, November 2, 2004, "Wal-Mart Refuses to Stock Comedian's Book."

New York Times Magazine, June 3, 2001, Stephen Sherrill, "Oh Happy Day," p. 21.

Progressive, July, 2001, interview with Marc Cooper, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2001, review of Napalm and Silly Putty, p. 61; September 20, 2004, review of When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? p. 57.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, October 8, 2004, Charlie Huisking, "George Carlin's Acerbic Wit Hasn't Mellowed with Age," p. 9.

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, CT), May 4, 2006, "King of Funny: Carlin Hits the Stage at the Palace."

Time, March 29, 2004, Richard Zoglin, "10 Questions for George Carlin," p. 8.

UPI NewsTrack, December 28, 2004, "George Carlin Books Himself into Rehab."

Waterloo Carrier (Waterloo, IA), September 17, 2006, Melody Parker, "An Interview with George Carlin."

World Entertainment News Network, September 12, 2005, "Carlin Comes Clean about Sobering Rehab Experience."

ONLINE, (December 26, 2006), Todd Leopold, "George Carlin Confronts Reality: Comedian Adds to Observations in New Book," review of When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

George Carlin Home Page, (December 26, 2006).

Internet Movie Database, (December 26, 2006) information on author's film and television work., (June 23, 1999), Geoff Edgers, "Standup for Your Blights," interview with author.

About this article

Carlin, George 1937- (George Denis Carlin)

Updated About content Print Article