One of the preeminent stand-up comics of the 60s generation, Carlin was famous for his routine regarding the Seven Dirty Words which can't be broadcast on television. Originally a comic who stretched boundaries in the vein of Lenny Bruce, he aged into a philosophic hipster whose influence can be felt in all the comics of today who include social commentary in their routines.
It was announced just last week that The Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for Comedy would be awarded Carlin this year. It remains to be seen if that commendation will stand, as the award has never before been given posthumously. (It might make the final sequence of the event, in which the recipient takes the stage, a bit unusual. Maybe they could just replay the Seven Dirty Words routine! No, wait, it's the Kennedy Center, where naughty words are censured [see previous post]. Better to just send everybody here.)
I have a personal reminiscence of George Carlin which requires a little set-up. My family moved from my hometown of Atlanta to Los Angeles the summer between my junior and senior year in high school. It was a decision not made lightly by my parents, but the pater had received a giant promotion to make the move. Naturally, I was at the center of the concern; pretty crummy to be removed from the friends I had gone to school with since kindergarten, into a brand new high school across the country, in my senior year.
The actual physical move, by coincidence more than design, happened while I was out of the country. For about a year, my high school had planned a 3 week trip to Europe for their juniors and seniors, and about 30 students were going, including myself. (Though it's hard to tell, that's me on the steps of the Acropolis in Greece. Dig those groovy trousers!). So, I left my home in Atlanta with my friends in early June, and when I returned to the states, "home" had miraculously been moved into a new house in Los Angeles.
(The move, by the way, turned out to be all for the best for me, as I wrote a while back, but at the time, I was a misery.)
It was a deeply depressing moment at the New York airport, when I had to say good-bye to my life-long friends as they boarded their connecting flight back to Atlanta, and I, completely alone and in despair, boarded my plane to LA. My plane was overbooked, and I was bumped up to first class to make room. It was my first time flying first class, and I was too young to enjoy the free booze, so who cares? The plane was one of those early 747s, with the first class lounge, and spiral staircase, and the works.
George Carlin was in the seat next to me. I was not his biggest fan, but of course I knew who he was.
Being the starstruck teenager that I tried to avoid being, I worked up the courage to ask for his autograph. Politely, he said he did not sign autographs but, perhaps because he knew he would be sitting next to me for 5 hours, he drew a happy face on a cocktail napkin and gave it to me.
George Carlin drawing a happy face? I bet that napkin would be worth something now...
In memory of those Seven Dirty Words, and that flight across the country...
Update, 6/24/08: The Kennedy Center announced yesterday that Carlin will in fact receive the Mark Twain Award posthumously (posthumorously?)...