Comics remember George Carlin



The stand-up, actor and author who infamously defined "The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" died yesterday in a Los Angeles hospital of heart failure. As those he influenced in New York City share their thoughts, feel free to add your own via the Comments link. And check out our copy chief's personal memories of Carlin, along with Comedy editor Jane Borden's interview with him from 2005.


I loved that he saw Lenny Bruce and then changed his act completely. He was already fairly successful by then—it takes huge balls to drop something that's working and move into unknown territory.—Laurie Kilmartin

He was a true master of the art form. His bit on suicide is one of my favorites. His approach to mining a topic is the basis of my writing approach.—Jim Gaffigan


I first heard his Class Clown album in my friend's basement. It was like we had opened a treasure chest and found a secret stash that the adults had been hiding from us. We couldn't believe that this was a grown up saying this stuff. The greatest thing about George was that at one moment he would unearth the deepest thoughts ever spoken on stage and the next moment riff about cat's eyebrows and he'd have you laughing hysterically at both. A powerful, powerful man.—Tom Papa


Few comics have ever stunned me with their writing ability -- George Carlin did on a consistent basis. My earliest memory of him was as a nine-year-old listening to AM/FM as low as possible on the stereo at my friend's house. He heard it when his older brother played it, and played it for me. At nine we were just geeked that someone was cursing on a record. By the time I fell in love with comedy, and more specifically comedy writing, I marveled at the elegance of his construction. As for my favorite Carlin bit, it is a one-liner: "Ever notice that the women who are against abortion are the ones you wouldn't want to fuck anyway." For me the brilliance is the anarchy in the joke. No one should ever laugh at it. If you're pro-life he just called you or your spouse ugly. If you're pro-choice, he just objectified an entire gender, which should stick in your craw. As for meeting him, I did, but only once. It was at the bar at Catch a Rising Star in NYC in '87-ish. I had just come off the stage, very late spot. I was working some new material that died a horrible death. While I was eating it on stage, Carlin had wandered in a watched. When I came off stage, he came up to me and said, "That bit was funny, you're just not doing it right yet." He was right.—Jim Mendrinos


I never worked with George Carlin, but I'm affected by him every day. I do know this, I've worked with the best, and everyone, including me, is a little inspired by and affected by George Carlin. His work widened the avenue that we all walk down while performing. The guys that work on the edge owe a special debt to George; without him, it's likely that many of us would be selling insurance right now. At some point in time, every comic looks at what he or she does and knows it's been inspired by someone or thing. Watching Carlin inspires me to keep writing and to move my writing toward my truth, less concerned with how the audience reacts and more concerned with whether or not my piece has honesty. We all want to be funny, Carlin showed us that the real funny, the stuff worth talking about, comes from deep within, sometimes uncomfortable, but always honest. That material always hits because it isn't couched in a lie.—Vinnie Brand


George is one of my all time favorite comedians. He made me laugh hard when I was a kid.—William Stephensen


He was always very silly. It was a combination of smart and silly, which was who he was. He was always very warm and very giving. The main thing about Carlin that I remember is at the beginning he just wanted to please the audiences and make everyone happy, and then he saw Lenny Bruce and it was an epiphany for him; he realized he just wanted to go out there and tell the truth.… I learned that from watching Pryor, Carlin and Bill Hicks. They taught me that. One thing that I remember the most about him is that he said words aren’t bad. He said, “People would say that George Carlin says bad words, and words aren’t bad. Intentions are bad.” He was great. A lot of stand-ups want to sit on the show and do panel, but the real art of stand-up is doing the stand-up. When he was doing specials in New York I would want to get him to come and do stand-up on the show. He came out there and he was just incredible, top to bottom. Set it up, knocked it down. It was beautiful. —Eddie Brill


He made comedy cool. He was never corny and he didn't have to run around the stage frantically to sell his jokes. Instead, he taught me how to use my eyes to tell the story. On the other hand, the mere fact that he churned out a new hour of material every year was mind-boggling and made me want to quit the business. Long live Carlin! —Jeffrey Ross


I'll never forget when that special he taped at Carnegie Hall aired on HBO. It seemed every student in my junior high somehow sneaked into their parents' living rooms and saw it at some point. And although we'd only seen it once, we knew word for word his "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" bit by heart. We'd recite it over and over again to each other as a chorus on the playground. I'll never forget the glee in my classmates' braces-clad smiles as we tried to beat each other to the punch lines. George Carlin inspired me by proving that through great writing and honesty you could be provocative and silly at the same time. You can be prolific without being elitist. —Lisa Landry


One of my favorite lines of his happened when I was working with him on an episode of Tough Crowd on Comedy Central. We were discussing a story about a woman who decided to sue a guy for rape 15 years after the alleged incident. George said, "First of all, if she's still thinking about it 15 years later, the sex couldn't have been all that bad."

A few years back I was at a little club that no one has ever heard of in the middle of Illinois and the owner said, "Guess who walked in here unannounced last weekend?" It was none other than George Carlin and his wife. I guess his wife wanted to try stand-up at the time and George was working some theater in Chicago but didn't want her to go on in front of an audience that big, so he had someone drive them all the way out to this little club so she could be comfortable. More evidence he was just a great guy.

He was the first comic I ever heard use the c-word in his act.… I was like ten at the time.… I think it had a real impression on me. What kid didn't have those seven words down cold when that album came out?—Nick DiPaolo


I met George Carlin once. It was a few months ago when we were both booked on the same radio show and got to chat for a few minutes during a break. I've met plenty of people—comics, actors, athletes, politicians—and have always felt perfectly comfortable, but when I was face to face with Carlin, I suddenly felt like a shy kid. I was in awe, and didn't want to say anything stupid to the man who used words with such precision and perfection, who had such strong opinions and convictions, and conveyed them humorously better than anyone. When we spoke he was cool, hip and could not have been more kind. In the past several weeks, we were trying to work out a date for him to appear on my show. I was so excited just at the idea of talking at length with him, to go deeper than the bits. I'm grateful to have at least had those unforgettable few minutes in March. He was one of the most important comedians the craft has ever known.—Ray Ellin


I've opened for him about 15 or so times over the last year, and meeting him and being on the same stage as him was easily the biggest thrill of my career.

I really admired that at 71 George Carlin was still touring, writing, and growing as an artist, which is something I struggle with in my thirties, and that gives me a huge amount of respect for him. Not to mention that his newest material was top notch.

My favorite classic Carlin bit was the differences between baseball and football, which I memorized as a kid; and from his latest special my favorite material was, sadly enough, his material on death and the euphemisms we all use in dealing with it: "Whenever someone dies the following conversation is bound to take place: "You know, I heard Phil Davis died." "Phil Davis? I just saw him yesterday!" "Yeah? Didn't help. Apparently the mere act of being seen by you did nothing to slow his cancer."

One of my favorite moments working with him was after a show while they were waiting to introduce him, he took a minute to talk to me about a jazz bass/monologue piece he thought I'd like. When I said I hadn't heard of it he said, "Give me your address; I'll send you a copy." I politely replied, "Oh, that would be great" or something to that effect, while inside I was completely frantic: "Are you kidding me? Comedy legend George Carlin is going to make me a CD of a bit he thinks I'd like?" I got it the next week and almost couldn't open the envelope I was so in awe.

George Carlin was a kind and thoughtful man, and I am grateful to have gotten the chance to work with and talk to him, however briefly it may have been.—Rob Paravonian


Every comic in the world has been influenced by George Carlin on some embryonic level. But there's one major aspect to what he did that very few have dared attempt. As comedians, we try our best to appear conversational on stage, as if we're just coming up with stuff off the top of our heads. And in a way, that takes the pressure off—after all, you can't expect too much if I'm just up here chitchatting, right? George Carlin, on the other hand, always made you aware that you were watching a "performance." The ways he'd manipulate his voice and body were so theatrical and his use of language so precise, it was as much performance art as it was classic "stand-up." Also, he was a guy with something to say about the world he lived in. He was supremely clever, but used that cleverness not as a crutch or a cop-out but as a tool in the service of Big Ideas.—Christian Finnegan


3:30 a.m. on Monday my best friend called me. He woke me up to tell me that Carlin had died. I thanked him and hung up. I didn’t believe it. He couldn’t have. We had just talked two days ago.

I am deeply saddened by the death of George Carlin on many levels. I am sad that he is one of the last great stand-up comedians that changed comedy and helped it grow, and he is no longer there to push society to look at itself. I am sad that someone that was so kind and thoughtful and caring has passed on. And I am sad that I can no longer ask him questions.

I feel the way you would when a parent dies. Your parents raise you and then release you at 18 and hope they raised you right, but you still call them up from time to time and ask for advice and ask them to share a story about them fucking up so you don’t feel so bad. But when they die you feel lost and angry, like, how are you supposed to do this all by yourself?

“Who’s gonna remind me to speak my mind? Who’s gonna encourage me to question everything? Who gonna push me to be better? Thank God you made a ridiculous amount of albums and HBO specials. I still need your guidance. I wasn’t ready for you to go. No one was.”

I feel very lucky to have had many interactions and first-hand advice from one of the funniest, hardest working and kindest comics ever to live, and I choose not to waste what I know and these experiences. -- Liz Miele


I got to open for Carlin and every night that I held the curtain for him it was like I was the bat boy handing Babe Ruth his bat. – Adam Ferrara



Whenever anyone goes to inspirations, he was definitely at the top of the list. We were all shocked. Nobody has put out more comedy or pushed the envelope more than him. We all owe a lot to George for that. I wish I had gotten the chance to meet him and I never did. I saw him one time at the Aspen Comedy Festival. But he definitely was it. – Dave Attell



Carlin said, "Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist." I always loved that because I think that's what made him such an excellent comic: He didn't let life off the hook. -- Rachel Feinstein