After writing a column about George Carlin entitled “The Road to Wonderful W.I.N.O.” in the Bennington Banner on September 9th, I was contacted by a rep from a California PR firm who told me that he enjoyed the article; that a new George Carlin album, his first release of “new” material since his passing eight years ago, was being released; and asked me if I would like to have Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, as a guest on my radio show. Well, as a life-long fan of the legendary comedian, there is only one possible answer to that question. So on September 18, I had the pleasure of talking to Kelly Carlin about the long-awaited release of her dad’s new album; shelved since 2001, and her 2015 memoir A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George.
George Carlin’s 20th solo album, I Kinda like It When a Lotta People Die, was recorded over the course of two nights at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 9 & 10, 2001. This material was intended to be the source for his 12th HBO special on November 17, 2001 with the same title as the album. Because of the September 11 attacks, Carlin decided not to release the album. He reworked some of the material and used it in the November special which he renamed Complaints and Grievances.
Nobody does dark comedy as well as George Carlin…and his last recorded album shows that he had never lost his skill and brilliance as an observer of humanity, warts and all.
Kelly shares her father’s love of words and certainly his sense of humor. In her memoir, which will be out in paperback on October 18, she is an observer of the Carlin household, warts and all.
George’s new album shows us the legend. Kelly’s memoir shows us the man. She opens the window blinds into their home and we have a front row seat as she takes us on an incredible journey through her father’s career, amidst the changing social values of the 1970s counter culture, and her somewhat unconventional upbringing.
At the age of 9 she watched her parents hide cocaine inside a bass drum in a backstage dressing room at the Milwaukee Summerfest just seconds before police arrived to arrest her father for doing his “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” routine. She rolled joints for her father when she was 10. She remembers being woken at the age of 11 by her cocaine-fueled father shouting “The sun has exploded! We have 8 minutes to live!”
His cocaine binges didn’t always include high drama. Because of his drug use, he would often be up all night and Kelly enjoyed staying up and spending quiet time with him; listening to music together or working on one of his many organization projects.
“Sorting his stuff was such a joy for him,” she writes, “that it ended up becoming the source for one of his most famous routines: ‘A Place For My Stuff.’ My dad believed all was right in the world when, and only when, there was a list, a pile, a folder, or a Ziploc bag to contain the chaos of his life.”
She loved to make her father laugh and she wrote that “No moment is more perfect than watching the man who makes the world laugh, laugh himself.”
The memoir is not just about her maturation, but that of her dad as well, as he dealt with both his and her mother Brenda’s addictions and illnesses. It is an account of Kelly growing up in an unorthodox household, where she often had to take on the role of “adult”: helping to calm her father down when he was on a bad LSD trip or hiding her mother’s car keys so she wouldn’t drive somewhere under the influence when she was battling severe alcoholism.
“I love giving to fans the 360-degree view of George Carlin, his entire humanity, and with that comes parts where he is vulnerable,” she says. “But I also lay open my vulnerability and brokenness, too.”
In addition to her childhood, Kelly recounts her own struggle with cocaine addiction, her troubled first marriage, dealing with the deaths of her parents, and the complex emotions she experienced within.
She has written that her most special childhood moments with her dad were what she calls the “teaching moments.” Such as when he woke her up in the middle of the night so she could watch the Apollo 11 moon landing (an awestruck George kept repeating “This is really happening right now”), or taking her to the Kent State memorial and telling her about the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
Tolstoy wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I would hesitate to label the Carlins as an unhappy family. Kelly’s memoir certainly reveals a troubled and often chaotic one; but also shows us a devoted and loving family that referred to themselves as the “Three Musketeers.” I guess you could say their family was also happy in its own way.
On October 9th, I will replay my conversation with Kelly Carlin on my radio show Conety Comedy. The show also includes my conversation with Carlisle Carey. She is a very funny and talented comedian who has performed at many venues all over the Northeast.