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Carlin, George (1938—)

Carlin, George (1938—)

During the 1960s, George Carlin revolutionized the art of stand-up comedy. He employed observational humor, adding a comic twist to everyday occurrences in order to comment on language, society, sports, and many mundane aspects of American daily life. His captivating stage presence and seemingly endless supply of material enabled him to succeed in giving comedy concerts. Rarely before had a comedian drawn such large crowds to a theater just to hear jokes.

George Carlin was born on May 12, 1938, in the Bronx, New York City. With one older brother, Pat, George grew up in Morningside Heights, which he calls "White Harlem," and took the title of his album Class Clown from his role in school as a child. He dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Air Force. He ended up in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he became a newscaster and DJ at radio

station KJOE, while still serving in the Air Force, and after his discharge continued worked in radio, moving to Boston in 1957 where he joined radio station WEZE.

Over the next few years, Carlin had many radio jobs, and in 1959 he met newsman Jack Burns at KXOL in Fort Worth, Texas. Teaming with Burns in the early 1960s, he moved to Hollywood where he came to the attention of Lenny Bruce. Burns and Carlin secured spots in mainstream comedy clubs and made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. When Jack Burns left the team to work with Avery Shrieber, George Carlin began to make a name for himself as a stand-up comedian, and during the decade became a fixture on television, appearing on the Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin shows, and writing for Flip Wilson. His first comedy album, Take-Offs and Put-Ons, came out in 1972.

Also in 1972, he was arrested after doing his "Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television" routine at a Milwaukee concert. The charges were thrown out by the judge, but George Carlin will forever be associated with an important test of the First Amendment as applied to broadcasting—the routine was later the crux of a Supreme Court case, FCC v. Pacifica Radio, whose station WBAI in New York City broadcast the offending album. The case helped launched the FCC's "safe harbor" policy, allowing profanity on the air only after 10 PM (later changed to midnight and then extended to a 24-hour ban on indecent material).

Carlin continued releasing albums, Occupation: Foole, FM/AM, and Toledo Window Box, among others, and earning Grammy awards. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Carlin kept a public career in comedy going through television and movie appearances, recordings and live concerts, frequently performing at colleges and music festivals. He has continued developing his particular brand of humor, with its combination of satire, wordplay, and social commentary.

—Jeff Ritter

Further Reading:

Carlin, George. Brain Droppings. New York, Hyperion, 1997.

——. Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Running Press, 1984.

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