Dennis Carlin is a Grammy-winning Irish American stand-up comedian,
actor, and author, noted especially for his irreverent attitude
and his observations on language, psychology and religion along
with many taboo subjects. He is considered by many to be a successor
to the late Lenny Bruce.
in New York City, 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."
He was raised by his mother, who left his father when he was two
years old. At age 17 and a half, Carlin dropped out of high school
and joined the United States Air Force, training as a radar technician.
He was stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he began working
as a disc jockey on a local radio station. He did not complete
his Air Force enlistment. On July 29, 1957, Carlin was discharged.
the age of 18 and a half, he and Jack Burns, a new announcer at
the station, assembled a comedy routine and began booking nightclubs.
Soon the act broke up, but Carlin continued to work as a stand-up
the 1960s, Carlin began appearing on television variety shows,
notably Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. His most famous skits were:
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 mostly dark tonight, turning to widely
scattered light in the morning."
Jon Carson — the "world never known, and never to be
1961, Carlin married Brenda Hosbrook, whom he had met while touring
the previous year. The couple had a daughter, Kelly, in 1963.
During this period, Carlin became more popular. He became 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 changed his routines, and his appearance. He lost some
TV bookings by dressing as a hippie, sporting a beard and earrings,
but regained his popularity as the public caught on to his sense
of style. It is not clear that Carlin has ever lost his hippie
sensibilities, as he retains his beard to this day and has often
sported a ponytail.
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. 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.
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
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 skit, in line with what Oliver Wendell Holmes,
Jr. said: "you cannot define obscenity without being obscene."
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). Carlin was also arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and
charged with violating obscenity laws.
was the first-ever host of NBC's Saturday Night Live, debuting
on October 11, 1975 (He also hosted SNL on November 10, 1984.)
The following season, 1976-77, Carlin also appeared regularly
on CBS Television's Tony Orlando & Dawn variety series.
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
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, and became as identified with the cable network's comedy
offerings as the performer whose specials practically inaugurated
the network, Robert Klein. All of Carlin's albums from this time
forward are the HBO specials.
1989, Carlin had become popular with a new generation of teens
when he was cast as the mentor, Rufus, in Bill & Ted's Excellent
Adventure. In 1991, he provided the narrative voice for the American
version of the children's show Thomas the Tank Engine, a role
he continued until 1998.
began a weekly sitcom, The George Carlin Show, cast as "George,"
a cab driver, for the Fox Network in 1993. He quickly included
a variation of the "Seven Words" in the plot. The show
lasted 27 episodes before being cancelled in December, 1995.
1997, Brenda Carlin died of liver cancer. George Carlin did not
work for a year following the death of his wife. Also in 1997,
his first book, titled Braindroppings 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. He worked with
Smith again with a cameo appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike
Back, and a larger role in Jersey Girl.
2001, Carlin was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th
Annual American Comedy Awards. In 2004, George Carlin was voted
#2 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest standups of all
time, just behind Richard Pryor. 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.
performs regularly as a headliner in Las Vegas. He has currently
begun a new tour through the first half of 2006, and had a new
HBO Special on November 5th, 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.
February 1st, 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 previous for "heart failure" and "pneumonia,"
citing the appearance as his "first show back."
As a staunch atheist, Carlin has often denounced the idea of a
god in interviews and performances, most notably with his "Invisible
Man in the Sky" routine. In mockery he invented a fake religion
called "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.
Sherman, the Chicago, Illinois playwright, revived the joke of
this mock religion in his 2002 play "Old Man's Friend"
as some comic relief in the context of a daughter reconciling
with her father when the doctor diagnoses her dad as having cancer
and gives him six months to live.
has also said he might worship the Sun (because he can actually
see it) but prays to Joe Pesci because "he's a good actor"
and "he looks like a guy who can get things done!"
"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." Admittedly, he acknowledges that this is a
very selfish thing, especially since he includes large human catastrophes
as entertainment, the more lives lost the better.
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."
the same interview he recounts his experience of a California
earthquake in the early 70s 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."
has always included politics as part of his material (along with
the wordplay and sex jokes), but he has gained increasing respect
over the past decade and a half as a 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.
"They're superstitious, they have these beliefs, these primitive,
you know, people believe in a., I mean they're just really kind
of credulous, and gullible. People believe in, for instance, hell
and angels, okay, these are very primitive, very, very backward
to me, backward sounding beliefs, these are child-like, and that's
the key, because they get you when you're a kid, they get you
when you're little, and they tell you there's a God, and if you
can make people believe, I believe this, if you can make someone
believe that there's an invisible man, living in the sky, whose
watching everything you do, and keeping count of everything you
do, which is good and which is bad, then you can make that person
believe anything after that, you can add anything you want, the
4th of July shit just rolls right in, land of the free, home of
the brave, the press is fair and impartial, justice is blind,
all men are created equal, your vote is important, the United
States government is on your side, the army is here to keep the
peace, the police are on your side...Oh, and freedom of choice,
this is the big one, the illusion of choice, we're led to feel
free by the exercise of meaningless choices. There are, for instance,
important things -- not too many choices, unimportant things-ice
cream flavors, what do you want, we've got 31, the flavor of the
week, the flavor of the month, but political parties-we're down
to two, jeez. Sources of information, media companies down to
five, banks, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, chemical companies,
oil companies-used to be seven, down to three, pretty soon it's
gonna be two. But if you’re lookin' for a bagel or a fuckin'
donut, hey, what do you want-pineapple supreme, hazelnut; we've
got everything you want. Cereals, I counted, personally in the
store counted 192 different cereal choices, 192. 140 different
cat foods, I counted, and that includes a tartar-control cat food
for senior citizen cats, okay." - George Carlin, appearance
on Dennis Miller Live; [response to why Americans are so easily
influenced by advertising]