Kelly Carlin Talks “Companion” As We Near Her Father’s Birthday
Writer, producer, podcaster and SiriusXM radio host Kelly Carlin may have been first-hand witness to her famous father’s “early days as a straight comic through his transformation into a counter culture hero and iconoclastic social commentator,” but her own path to adulthood and enlightenment has been just as tumultuous.
Directed by Paul Provenza (The Aristocrats, Showtime’s The Green Room with Paul Provenza), her second one-woman show, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George, is a touching telling of their shared story, and has earned raves on both the festival circuit and at its monthly run at the Santa Monica Playhouse. While the next show is May 24th, May 12th marks what would have been George’s 75th birthday. To celebrate her father’s birthday, Kelly will host a night of comedy on May 17th.
How long have you been working on the show, and how has it evolved over time?
The very first time I did it was on a cruise ship. Lewis Black had invited me to come on “Lew’s Cruise” with himself and seven stand-ups and 400 of his fans. He needed some day activities for the fans so I said I’d play a few videos of my dad and tell some family stories. I made the whole thing up on the spot. That was November 2010. In March of 2011, I found out I was going to JFL [Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival] and thought, “Oh, shit, now I have to write this thing.” I began developing it. At JFL it was about seventy percent of what it is today. I was on book for two-thirds of it, there was a ton of stuff in that we ended up cutting, and we hadn’t really found out a through-line yet.
How does A Carlin Home Companion compare to your previous one-woman show, Driven to Distraction?
Driven to Distraction was about how my mother’s death in 1997 had led to a spiritual awakening in my life and showed me how so much of our lives [is] about distracting us from the fear of death. This show is more focused on how my father’s professional and personal choices affected myself and our family, and then how I took that experience into my adult life and had to heal and find a new way to be with it all. This show is also very multimedia, with lots of clips from my dad’s HBO shows and family photos.
A Carlin Home Companion has already appeared at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival last summer and most recently at SXSW in March. What do you envision as the final manifestation of the project? Broadway? Documentary? Other?
Until last December, it was a work in progress. And in some ways it will always be one. But as it is now, script is locked, and I am learning more and more each time about performing it. Broadway? That would be lovely. A doc? Who knows.
How has Paul Provenza’s direction helped shape the show?
Paul has been a godsend. Not only does he have impeccable comedic taste, but he is unafraid of the dark stuff. Being someone who was deeply influenced by my father, he has been able to help sort through how my dad’s comedic material parallels and juxtaposes against my personal stories. Being an actor in his own right, he has helped me to find my way into my own acting. Being a person who suffers no fools or bullshit, he has helped me keep the material poignant but not saccharine, deep but not self-indulgent. He has been invaluable to me. I can’t imagine having done this without him.
What have audiences found to be the most surprising revelations about George that emerged from the show?
I guess that they see a man who didn’t always have the answers, was searching like everyone else. His humanity.
Have any of your memories or experiences remained too painful or otherwise private to share?
Of course. And yet there is nothing not in this piece that would be surprising. Just more moments of human confusion and such. Doing a show like this, you leave in what supports the narrative that has been revealed to you, and you leave out what is extraneous. It’s like any kind of storytelling, it’s just that the material is your own life.
In February you began hosting The Kelly Carlin Show monthly on SiriusXM’s Raw Dog channel. You also host your Waking From the American Dream pocast via the Smodcast network. What have satellite radio and podcasts brought to the comedy landscape that performers from George’s generation never got to utilize?
Podcasts have given folks access to audience without gatekeepers. Of course, this isn’t always a good thing. Some people attempt them and it’s clear they have no idea what they are doing. But the great ones like Marc Maron’s WTF, Greg Fitzsimmons’s Fitzdog Radio, and Greg Proops are wonderful. I started doing Waking From the American Dream because I wanted to have conversations with people who I feel live outside, or think outside the cookie cutter American mainstream world. I feel very lucky that people enjoy what I bring to the table. As far as satellite radio, there is a lot more comedy getting to be played hour after hour, and that is a good thing for comics and people who like to laugh.
In your mind, what is George’s greatest lasting legacy?
For the world, it will most likely be “The Seven Dirty Words,” which is too bad because that is such a small part of who he was and what he did. In my mind, it is many things: fearless truth-teller on stage, whimsical goofy observer of small human moments and deep critical thinker. Oh, and he was a great dad.