George Carlin

Active - 1968 - 2021  |   Born - May 12, 1937 in New York, New York, United States  |   Died - Jun 22, 2008   |   Genres - Comedy, Children's/Family

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The titles of his popular record albums "Weird Behavior" and "Class Clown" sum up the childhood deportment of American comedian George Carlin. He tried to fit into the mainstream, but school was too confining. Carlin dropped out of high school to join the Air Force as a radar mechanic, and while stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana, the 17-year-old Carlin was given a shift as a deejay on a local radio station. At 18, Carlin teamed with the station's newsman Jack Burns and hit the nightclub circuit with a comedy act. Things didn't congeal, and soon both performers went their separate ways (Burns would later team more successfully with Avery Schreiber, then go on to become an influential comedy writer and producer). In the mid 1960s, Carlin began building a following with appearances on variety programs, delivering soon-to-be classic routines about Indian war parties ("You wit' the beads...get outta line"), crack-brained deejays ("Wonderful WINO....") and Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie weather man. This fresh burst of celebrity led to Carlin's being hired as a regular on Away We Go, the 1967 summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show. Carlin remained popular, but grew tired of pulling out the same routines in show after show; he also rebelled against the conservatism of his physical appearance. Before the 1960s had become the 1970s, Carlin had lost several TV jobs by dressing hippie-style, replete with beard and earrings. But changing public tastes made such eccentricity salable again, and soon Carlin was hot again. One of his more popular routines was one that he couldn't deliver on the air: "The Seven Words You Can't Use On Television." This more than any other piece of material would both deify Carlin with his fans and vilify him with the conservative element: an FM radio station nearly lost its license for playing the "Seven Words" routine, while Carlin himself was arrested during a Milwaukee appearance for violating obscenity laws. This served to solidify Carlin's link with the down-with-everything youth culture of the era, which may be why the comedian was the first guest on the doggedly anti-establishment Saturday Night Live. Carlin's performances became renowned for their unpredictability in the 1970s and early 1980s; sometimes he'd stalk off in the middle of the act if the laughs weren't there, other times he'd verbally abuse the audience, and still other times he wouldn't show up at all. By the mid 1980s, he had cleaned up his personal act (if not his public one); he landed and sustained

the surprising assignment of narrating a children's series (the British animated program Thomas and Friends); appeared in a supporting capacity in the 1987 Arthur Hiller female buddy comedy Outrageous Fortune!; and in 1989 became something of a teen idol thanks to his appearances as mentor-from-the-future Rufus in the lowbrow but profitable Bill and Ted movies. He also catered to audiences of a much different demographic, with a fine supporting role in Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides (1991). With nearly three decades of lofty career heights and equally precipitous lows behind him, Carlin then signed to star in a weekly sitcom for the Fox Network in 1993, in which he played a cab driver named George - and within a few weeks was up to his old tricks by weaving a heavily bleeped variation of those "Seven Words" into one of the plotlines.

The George Carlin Show debuted in January of 1994, but failed to connect with audiences and folded after a single season. This only marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Carlin, however - one that witnessed him maintaining a busier schedule than ever before over the decade and a half that followed. He cropped up in numerous additional features - including the gag-a-minute farce Scary Movie 3 (2003) and the Pixar/Disney CG-animated family film Cars (2006) (in which he voiced one of the titular automobiles); he also headlined numerous stand-up specials for HBO and continued to tour up through the time of his death. Carlin died of heart failure in June 2008 at the age of 71, about a year after issuing three new stand-up recordings back-to-back: Brain Droppings, Napalm and Silly Putty, and More Napalm and Silly Putty.

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  • Joined the Air Force in 1954. By 1956, he had received three courts-martial before being discharged in 1957.
  • While still in the Air Force, he began his showbiz career when he landed an off-base job as a disc jockey at KJOE in Shreveport, LA.
  • In 1960, he made his TV debut as one-half of the comedy duo (Jack) Burns & Carlin on The Tonight Show.
  • In July 1965, he made his first appearance on The Merv Griffin Show. Ultimately he appeared on the program 29 times. 
  • Made his TV-acting debut on a 1966 episode of That Girl in which he played star Marlo Thomas's agent. Two years later, he made his big-screen debut in With Six You Get Eggroll.
  • Was fired from Las Vegas' Frontier Hotel in 1969 for using foul language on stage and was arrested in Milwaukee in 1972 for violating obscenity laws.
  • Hosted the first episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975. Five years later, he was the inaugural host of Fridays, a similar sketch-comedy show on ABC.
  • Was No. 2 (behind Richard Pryor) on the list of Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.