George Denis Patrick Carlin (May 12, 1937 — June 22, 2008) was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, actor, and author, who 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. Supreme Court 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 commented 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 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.
"Always do whatever's next.""At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.""Atheism is a non-prophet organization.""By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.""Death is caused by swallowing small amounts of saliva over a long period of time.""Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.""Dusting is a good example of the futility of trying to put things right. As soon as you dust, the fact of your next dusting has already been established.""Electricity is really just organized lightning.""Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.""Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.""Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"""I am" is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that "I do" is the longest sentence?""I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it.""I recently went to a new doctor and noticed he was located in something called the Professional Building. I felt better right away.""I think it would be interesting if old people got anti-Alzheimer's disease where they slowly began to recover other people's lost memories.""I think people should be allowed to do anything they want. We haven't tried that for a while. Maybe this time it'll work.""I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me - they're cramming for their final exam.""I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.""I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.""I'm always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I'm listening to it.""I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.""I'm not concerned about all hell breaking loose, but that a PART of hell will break loose... it'll be much harder to detect.""If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.""If we could just find out who's in charge, we could kill him.""If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten.""In comic strips, the person on the left always speaks first.""Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.""Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town.""May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.""Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.""Not only do I not know what's going on, I wouldn't know what to do about it if I did.""One can never know for sure what a deserted area looks like.""One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.""People who say they don't care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don't care what people think.""Religion is just mind control.""Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that.""Standing ovations have become far too commonplace. What we need are ovations where the audience members all punch and kick one another.""The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.""The other night I ate at a real nice family restaurant. Every table had an argument going.""The reason I talk to myself is that I'm the only one whose answers I accept.""The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done.""There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.""There's no present. There's only the immediate future and the recent past.""Think off-center.""Weather forecast for tonight: dark.""Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?""What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?""When someone is impatient and says, "I haven't got all day," I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?""When Thomas Edison worked late into the night on the electric light, he had to do it by gas lamp or candle. I'm sure it made the work seem that much more urgent.""When you step on the brakes your life is in your foot's hands.""When you're born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat.""You know an odd feeling? Sitting on the toilet eating a chocolate candy bar.""You know the good part about all those executions in Texas? Fewer Texans."
Carlin was born in Manhattan, the second 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 a Roman Catholic.
Carlin grew up on West 121st Street, in a neighborhood of Manhattan which he later said, in a stand-up routine, he and his friends called "White Harlem", because that sounded a lot tougher than its real name of Morningside Heights. He was raised by his mother, who left his father when Carlin was two months old. After three semesters, at the age of 15, Carlin involuntarily left Cardinal Hayes High School 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 and was trained as a radar technician. He was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base 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, Texas. 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.
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 in 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 Fame, 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 Detroit, Michigan.
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 in Away We Go, a 1967 comedy show. His material during his early career and his appearance, which consisted of suits and short-cropped hair, had 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.
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.
An oral history, edited by Carlin's daughter, Kelly, was 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 1-4391-7295-1). The book covers Carlin's life up to around Life is Worth Losing, with the final chapter detailing future plans, including the planned one-man show. The book was released one year and four months after Carlin's death. The audio version of the book was read by George's brother Patrick and featured an interview with Tony Hendra and George's daughter, Kelly.
1963: Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight
1967: Take-Offs and Put-Ons
1972: FM & AM
1972: Class Clown
1974: Toledo Window Box
1975: An Evening with Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo
1977: On the Road
1981: A Place for My Stuff
1984: Carlin on Campus
1986: Playin' with Your Head
1988: What Am I Doing In New Jersey?
1990: Explicit Lyrics
1992: Jammin' in New York
1996: Back in Town
1999: You Are All Diseased
2001: Complaints and Grievances
2006: Life Is Worth Losing
2008: It's Bad for Ya
1978: Some of the Best of George Carlin
1984: The George Carlin Collection
1992: Classic Gold
1999: The Little David Years
2002: George Carlin on Comedy
The Kraft Summer Music Hall (1966)
That Girl (Guest appearance) (1966)
The Ed Sullivan Show (multiple appearances)
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (season 3 guest appearance) (1968)
The Flip Wilson Show (writer, performer) (1971—1973)
The Mike Douglas Show (Guest) (February 18, 1972)
Saturday Night Live (Host, episodes 1 and 183) (1975 & 1984)
Justin Case (as Justin Case) (1988) TV movie directed Blake Edwards
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (as American Narrator) (1991—1998)
Shining Time Station (as Mr. Conductor) (1991—1993)
The George Carlin Show (as George O'Grady) (1994) Fox
Streets of Laredo (as Billy Williams) (1995)
The Simpsons (as Munchie, episode 209) (1998)
The Daily Show (guest on February 1, 1999; December 16, 1999; and March 10, 2004)
MADtv (Guest appearance in episodes 518 & 524) (2000)
Inside the Actors Studio (2004)
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."
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 was published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint on November 17, 2009.
Carlin also spent several years before his death writing a one-man show he planned to do on Broadway before his death, called Watch My Language or New York City Boy. It has been published in 2009 by Disney's Hyperion Books, who also published Carlin's Brain Droppings, Napalm and Silly Putty, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops, and the compilation Three Times Carlin: An Orgy of George. It was published in paperback as New York Boy in September 1, 2010, but has not been officially released.
Since the birth of spam email on the internet, many chain-forwards, usually rantlike 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 on 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 to 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: "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 that "it bothers me that some people might believe that I would be capable of writing some of this stuff."