Here are seven words about George Carlin we can say in a blog: George Carlin would be 79 May 12, and thanks to his daughter, we are being given a priceless birthday present. She is donating her father’s archives and artifacts to the National Comedy Center, which is scheduled to open in 2017 in Jamestown, N.Y., which happens to be the hometown of Lucille Ball, and is also the site of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum and the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.
Over the course of Carlin's near 50-year career, he evolved from a mainstream comic loved by Middle America for such routines as “The Indian Sergeant" and "the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman," to long-haired counterculture contrarian and speaker of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”
Kelly Carlin, an author in her own right (her memoir, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George, was published last fall), has been the custodian of her father’s legacy. She hosts Sirius XM’s The Kelly Carlin Show and appears on the network’s Carlin’s Corner channel, devoted to George. She also hosts a podcast on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast network, Waking from the American Dream, a more personal and freewheeling spiritual discussion. Her donation to the National Comedy Center comprises a reported eight steamer trunks-full of the comedian’s files, set lists, scrapbooks, notes and other Carlin-abilia.
Eight years after his death, Carlin’s status as one of the most influential comedians of his generation is undimmed: Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Louis C. K; they’re each George’s kids. There are many more, but comedy rule of three. Kelly’s donation gives instant cred to the fledgling museum, which looks to be to comedy what the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is for baseball. One of its more intriguing—perhaps eerie—proposed features will be a hologram comedy club, in which icons such as Bob Hope and Andy Kaufman will perform classic routines.
Comedy is the Dangerfield of art forms; it gets little respect. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences generally do not acknowledge it. The last comedy—if we’re being generous—to win Best Picture was “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998. Before that, you have to go back to 1977 and “Annie Hall.”
The National Comedy Center could go a long way toward preserving comedy’s rich history, and most important, providing context. Kliph Nesteroff has been selected as the museum’s curator, and context was a theme to his book, “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy.” “If you play a Lenny Bruce record for the same people who like Louis C.K., they may not get the big deal,” he told an interviewer, “but if you explain that Louis C.K.’s biggest influence was George Carlin and that George Carlin’s biggest influence was Lenny Bruce, then there’s a greater context for all of this.”
Carlin once said that when you are born, you get a ticket to the freak show; and if you are born in America, you get a front row seat. The National Comedy Center looks to be a long-overdue celebration of those who took notes, and few took more incisive notes than Carlin.
Happy birthday, George.