On Wednesday, after years of hard work, George Carlin finally got his way. On the 400 block of 121st street, Morningside Heights, in New York City in front of a crowd of about a 200 people, the sign reading “George Carlin Way” was unveiled. It took three years of work by comedian Kevin Bartini, who moved into the neighborhood, discovered it was Carlin’s stomping ground and was shocked to find there was no statue or any marker noting that a bonafide comic legend and NYC native grew up there. Carlin lived at Broadway and 121st in Morningside Heights from his 1937 birth until dropping out of high school in 1954 and enlisting in the Air Force.
Bartini, a warm-up comedian for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report took action. He contacted George’s daughter Kelly and initiated the street naming via online petition. Bartini then spearheaded a group of volunteers who canvassed the neighborhood, collecting more than 9,000 total signatures. The process to pass the bill began in June 2011, then approved by a 24-to-4 vote by Manhattan Community Board 9. The approval then went to the NYC City Council where it was finally signed into law three years later on July 9th by Mayor DeBlasio.
The board suggested Bartini get the blessing of the Corpus Christi Church – a Roman Catholic parish located at the end of the same block. It’s also where Carlin attended both school and church services. If Bartini did, the measure would sail through but it turned out the church wasn’t really into the idea. Bartini spoke to the longtime pastor at the church, Reverend Raymond Rafferty, and the reverend stated he knew George as a kid yet had a grudge with the comedian. As we know, Carlin’s act famously attacks the teachings of the church and the Raffery didn’t want young people seeing Carlin’s name on the street, investigating him, and learning about his anti-church message. Carlin often referenced the “Irish Harlem” neighborhood in books and performances, including Corpus Christi Church, particularly in his landmark 1972 album Class Clown.
The day after the meeting, Bartini set up the petition and gathered the names. The church battled back. But then a compromise was reached. A sign commemorating “George Carlin Way” would be hung from the east side of Amsterdam Avenue, which would effectively rename the 400 block of 121st St – between Amsterdam and Morningside Drive – rather than the 500 block, where both Carlin’s childhood home and the church are located. Colin Quinn noted how great the solution was, “It’s like an old neighborhood solution: Take it down the block. Have your fight there. George would love it.” George Carlin, fighting with the church even in death.
So, on a very cold and windy day we find ourselves on the corner of Morningside drive, where Colin Quinn, Kelly Carlin, brother Patrick Carlin and other comedy luminaries gather to watch the dedication. A quick scan of the crowd reveals comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Jon Fisch, Judah Friedlander, Rick Overton, Eddie Brill, Robert Klein, John Fugelsang, and Ted Alexandro. Another comedy legend’s daughter, Rain Pryor, is there to support her friend Kelly Carlin. Off to the side, Dave Attell stands on a fire hydrant to get a better view of the scene. Friends, comedians, comedy industry, councilmen, and family are all present to watch the unveiling.
Colin Quinn, the defacto leader of NYC comedians, gives an eloquent speech about George, brother Patrick Carlin talks about the fun he and his brother used to get into, Patrick sums up his brother’s body of work stating, “I think of him with Mark Twain and Will Rogers.”
Daughter Kelly spoke about life with her dad and what the process of getting a street named after him was like. How his words continue to inspire (though sometimes misquoted) others. And how the comedy community embraced her after her father’s death.
Then, the moment we all waited for, the unveiling.
Photos were taken, news outlets reported and interviewed the comedians on the scene, the crowd dissipated. Later that night, in even worse weather, we see many of the same faces appear at Carolines comedy club for nighttime celebration.
We all fill the comedy club in good spirits. After some words again from Kelly and Patrick Carlin, Colin Quinn hosted 11, yes 11, comedians who took the stage to tell jokes and share stories. Kevin Bartini, Ted Alexandro, Rick Overton, Jim Norton, Eddie Brill, Rain Pryor, Dave Attell, Artie Lange, John Mulrooney, and Judah Friedlander all took a few minutes to make us laugh and talk about George. Gilbert Gottfried practically burnt the room down by going on an anti-tribute of Carlin, done in the way that only Gilbert Gottfried could do. Thoroughly fitting.
It was a day of tributes to one of the best that’s ever lived. Even if George wouldn’t have wanted the fuss, us mere mortals spent the day reflecting on the life of the one who told us all to keep kickin’ em in the nuts.