Brushes with Greatness - George Carlin

Memories of George Carlin

carlin_hbo_flyerGeorge Carlin was a wonderfully cranky old man. Luckily for the world, he expressed his anger by skewing the truth into humor. He made me laugh. I was lucky enough to work with him a couple of times.

The one I remember the best was in the early 90’s when I was asked to produce the clip segments for his 40th anniversary special on HBO. How do I sum up 40 years of comedy in a few clips that would precede his entrance and new material?

As any biographer might, I asked to meet with him to discuss his life’s work. He agreed and I drove out to the horse country of Pacific Palisades to his house. He was in his writing studio finishing a few hits of inspiration. He was friendly and forthcoming, excited about the retrospective. I sat next to a life-size cardboard cutout of Carlin at age 25 in suit and tie from an early TV special, he had lots of autographed Yankee baseballs, finally I posed the question I was dying to know:

CAN I SEE YOUR STUFF? I asked, paraphrasing his famous routine that “other people’s stuff is shit, but your shit is stuff”. What stuff had he saved? What insights would it give me into the man? He pulled out his most prized possession for me to see…

It was a business card signed by Charlie Byrd Parker. George told me the story how he would hang danny_kaye_autograph outside Birdland and all the Jazz clubs in New York as a teenager and beg the musicians for autographs. One day Charlie Parker gave him his card and invited him to hear the show. He then went on to say how his favorite comedian was Danny Kaye, but after waiting in the rain for 2 hours in 1947, Mr. Kaye has whisked past the disappointed and wet teenager. He had never forgotten the snub.

As fate would have it, I knew the late Danny Kaye’s secretary. I told her the story, and she found an autograph for me to give George Carlin the next time I saw him. I told him, “Danny wanted you to have this …sorry it’s 48 years late”. He thanked me and added it to his treasured “stuff”.

I spent a couple of months watching all his specials and early TV appearances and put together about a 20 minute opening tribute that captured the spirit of the man and the scope of his career. Unfortunately, I didn’t attend the taping of the live event and my name was inadvertently left off the credits. Since I got my check, I didn’t much care about the credit until the show was nominated for an Emmy as best comedy special and all my friends had the honor of getting dressed up in funny outfits, getting unbearably nervous and losing to Chris Rock anyway…except me.

George Carlin made me laugh. Now he’s making God laugh. All Rights Reserved 2012