Even Doris Day was a fan of George Carlin. He mastered at finding his voice and letting his material change with times. He started out as clean comedian and doing late night shows. The more the world changed, so did his act. As Americans became more cynical from the Vietnam War to the War on Drugs, the comic’s point of view heightened in cynicism. When the game transformed, Carlin did as well.
In 1937, the Great Depression had taken over. It was also the year George Denis Carlin was born in New York City. His parents had separated when he was a baby, and his mother raised his older brother and him in Manhattan. From a young age, Carlin knew he wanted to be funny man who appears movies and radio. At age 12, he created home recordings. Which is why, in 1954, he enlisted in the US Air Force. A GI bill ensured payment for broadcasting school.
While stationed in Louisiana, he worked for a local radio. Eventually, he found a better job in Boston, and that is where he met Jack Burns, a news reporter at WEZE. He and Burns would talk politics and liberalism. Through their friendship, Carlin shifted left. Long story short, in February 1960, the duo left for Los Angeles. They recorded Burns & Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight, and hit the club circuit. Lenny Bruce (who inspired Carlin) saw them perform and arranged for them to signed on GAC. The late great predicted, “George Carlin will one day assume the throne as king of the social comics.” Then, one night in 1961, when they were scheduled for the hungry i, Burns had fallen ill. Carlin went out solo. The routine succeeded so well that he realized he could do it alone.
Shortly after, the two split. Carlin attracted TV spots as walk-on and recurring characters. He credited The Merv Griffin Show in 1965 as his big break through, and had 58 appearances from ‘65-’66. He recorded his solo album, Take Offs and Put Ons, which became gold and Grammy nominated. He consumed more LSD, smoked more pot, and snorted coke. He did less television gigs and did more stand-up. He picked up writing jobs and worked with Richard Pryor. He embodied hippie counterculture. By 1977, his first HBO special aired. Viewers were warned, “We respect your decision about whether you want to see it. It contains language you hear every day on the street though rarely on TV.”
His look began clean cut and graduated to a ponytail and beard. Like Bruce, he got slammed with obscenity charges and riffed critically and frankly. He originated characters like Al Sleet, “the hippy-dippy weatherman,” and remarked, “Tonight’s forecast: dark. Continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.” During the 80s, he tackled Reagan, “If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?”
By the time he was 71 years old, Carlin filmed 14 HBO specials and appeared as the conductor on a kid’s series, Shining Time Station. He survived tax problems, a heart attack, two open-heart surgeries, and rehab. In 2008, his last HBO special, It’s Bad for Ya was released. That same year was his final. He died of heart failure. The guy played the game all the way to end.