I am taking a break from my usual ranting to pay tribute to one of my comedy heroes and influences George Carlin who passed away on Sunday
When I was in college I could recite two comedy albums word for word, Firesign Theater’s “ How Can You Be in Two Places At Once When You’re not Anywhere at All” and George Carlin’s “AM and FM”. Besides my father, these two LP’s which were my early influences in comedy. Sure, I had heard Lenny and Cosby but I could do Carlin by heart. I could do the voice and the inflections. When I first started doing stand up in the late seventies I was doing my own stuff but still doing George’s voice and mannerisms on stage.
In the mid eighties I was living in Chicago and was friends with Jimmy Wiggins. You may know the Wig if you are a fan of “Last Comic Standing”, he was the older guy who got screwed out of a place in the house in Vegas and caused several of the celebrity judges to walk out. Back in the eighties he opened a comedy room in Palatine, Illinois called Dirty Nellie’s. Since Jimmy was a old friend of Carlin’s, George had agreed to come in open the club. At the Saturday night late show Wig invited all the local guys to come to the show and we got to hang a little with the man after. I had met and worked with a number of guys who later became huge stars but no one who was already a legend like Carlin. I was truly star struck. He talked comedy for some time and was a gentleman to all.
Several years later I was breaking into the LA scene and doing a little room in West LA called Igby’s. George came in with Pat McCormick and their wives. After my set I was in the back of the room when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Carlin. He said, “Nice set, very funny and a little angry, just like I like my comedy.” He turned and went back to his seat. For weeks I annoyed my friends letting them know that I was one of Carlin’s favorites!
I knew his history in the business. He stated in radio as a DJ and later paired up on air with Jack Burns. They become the team Burns and Carlin. George and Jack go their separate ways in Chicago in the late sixties. Jack Burns went on to Second City where he met his later partner Avery Shriver. Carlin did his first solo at the Gate of Horn in Chicago and then went to New York and had success on Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and other TV shows as an off-beat but fairly straight act. I have a bootleg of a corporate show he did years ago. He did Al Sleet the hippy-dippy weather man and Al Pouch the hippy-dippy mailman. Carlin dropped out of sight for awhile in the late sixties after he was fired from a hotel in Vegas which inspires the bit “Shoot” and later evolves into the iconic “Seven Words”. He gets sick and grows his hair and beard in the hospital and re-emerges as a counter culture comic. With his new look he appeared on “The Tonight Show” and did his “The Hair Poem”. In 1972 he won the Grammy for “Am and FM”, released “Class Clown” which became the biggest selling comedy album up to that time.
I was always a fan. Even when he got older and I thought the “angry guy” thing really didn’t work for him anymore I still respected his work ethic and prolific output. He, more that anyone, inspired the comedy boom of the eighties.
Even though we could not have been further apart politically we both cherished one thing, The First Amendment. I think I am going over to my shelf, pull my vinyl copy of “ Class Clown” out of the sleeve and put it on my turntable and listen to that soft hiss while George does the seven words.