Who was George Carlin? Facts About the American Comedian


After dropping out of high school and joining the Air Force, George Carlin began working in radio, eventually gaining the attention of Lenny Bruce, who helped them earn appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. Carlin rose to prominence as a stand-up comedian, author, and film and television actor.

Early Life

George Denis Patrick Carlin was born in the Bronx, New York, on May 12, 1937. Carlin and his older brother, Pat, were reared in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood mostly by their mother. Mary Carlin, a devout Irish Catholic, supported her children by working as a secretary. She abandoned Carlin’s father Patrick, a national advertising manager for the New York Sun, when George was a baby.

Carlin attended parochial school, and his experience as a Roman Catholic altar boy contributed significantly to his unpleasant religious feelings. Carlin attended high school for two years before dropping out in the ninth grade.

At the age of 17, he joined the United States Air Force as a radar technician and was stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana. Carlin received his high school diploma and worked as a disc jockey at a local radio station during the next three years. According to his official website, he also suffered three courts-martial and countless disciplinary punishments. After receiving a general discharge in 1957, he worked in radio in Boston and Fort Worth, Texas.

Early Comedy Career

Carlin collaborated with Texas newscaster Jack Burns in 1959. They worked together on a morning radio show in Fort Worth before moving to Hollywood and catching the notice of the great Lenny Bruce. Bruce assisted Burns and Carlin in securing appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar (Carlin would appear on The Tonight Show 130 times).

Burns and Carlin subsequently split up, and Carlin continued to make numerous performances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as 29 appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, over the next few years.

Carlin made his start as a stand-up comic in the early 1960s by appearing on the Las Vegas circuit and entertaining TV audiences. Carlin had middling success until the mid-1970s, when he reinvented himself with a less conventional, slightly obscene comedic approach. Carlin’s scripted monologues grew to reflect his disillusionment with the world, as they addressed delicate themes like as Vietnam, politics, religion, American culture, drugs, the downfall of humanity, and the right to free speech.

Seven Words Routine

Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee in July 1972 for breaching obscenity laws following his iconic routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

When a radio station broadcast a recording of Carlin’s “Seven Words” routine, it ignited a court battle over obscenity laws. The United States Supreme Court maintained the government’s ability to penalize stations that broadcast such content on public airwaves between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

His opponents labeled him anti-religious and disdainful to society because he claimed to be an atheist and a heavy cocaine user. However, the comedian’s new material helped him gain popularity among the younger counterculture. Carlin demonstrated his anti-establishment stance by hosting the debut episode of the raunchy TV show Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975.

Comic Great

Carlin appeared in his first HBO comedy special, On Location: George Carlin at USC, in 1977. He did 14 such programs in total, including It’s Bad For Ya! in 2008.

George Carlin: The Little David Years (1971-’77) (1990) was a multi-CD package that featured Carlin’s work from the 1970s. FM & AM, Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, Toledo Window Box, An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Slaszo, and On the Road were among the albums included in the set. Carlin received two Grammy Awards, one for FM & AM (1990) and one for Jammin’ in New York (1992).His typical humor and obscenity about American family life abound in You Are All Diseased (1999).

In 1997, Carlin released Brain Droppings. His comic take on life, society, and politics was featured in the book. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for 18 weeks. After plagiarizing passages from Carlin’s book, syndicated columnist Mike Barnicle was fired from the Boston Globe two years later. Carlin benefited from the highly reported debate, which increased book sales.

Carlin has a variety of humorous parts during his career, including Outrageous Fortune in 1987 and Rufus, an emissary from the future in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1990. In The Prince of Tides (1991), he took a more dramatic turn. He also appeared in Kevin Smith’s 1999 film Dogma as Cardinal Glick, a fame-seeking ecclesiastical figure. In 2006, he voiced Fillmore, a hippie Volkswagen bus, in the animated film Cars.

Legacy and Death

Carlin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987.

Carlin found success with series television in the 1990s. For two years beginning in 1991, he performed the voice of the train conductor on PBS’ kid-friendly Shining Time Station, and he narrated Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends until 1998. From 1993 through 1995, he appeared as a cab driver on The George Carlin Show.

Carlin continued to tour around 150 times a year, in addition to acting, writing, and recording. In 2004, he was ranked second to Richard Pryor on Comedy Central’s list of the “Top 100 Comics of All Time.” On June 17, 2008, just five days before his death, the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was revealed.

Brenda Hosbrook, Carlin’s first wife, died of liver cancer complications on May 11, 1997. Kelly was born from their 35-year marriage. Sally Wade, his second wife of ten years, survives him.

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