This is Part 2 of my series on the beloved comedian George Carlin. Read on to learn about George’s life as his career began to truly take off!
George Carlin Part 2 – Becoming Himself
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When last we saw our hero, George had split from his comedy partner, Jack Burns, and had fallen in love with Brenda Hosbrook. If you haven’t read George Carlin Part 1-Just Getting Started, then what are you waiting for? Click here immediately!
From 1962 to 1970 George’s career really took off. He did all of the “successful young comedian” things like working the Playboy Club circuit. He opened for acts in Las Vegas. And he was even doing some television appearances at this point.
Most other comedians would have taken all of this and said “Thank You”, but we’re talking about George Carlin here. He was smart enough to know that he was making all the right moves. But he still had some inner demons that needed the crap kicked out of them. These demons caused him to take an alternate and somewhat darker route to success.
A Man With His Own Mind
To say that George had a “dislike” of the businessmen who made up a good percentage of his audiences would be like saying the Hindenburg had a “rough landing”. This enmity resulted in two occasions when he had hostile confrontations with audience members. The next thing he knew, he was back to performing in coffeehouses and small, off-campus night clubs.
Personally, this was fortunate for me because it gave me the chance to see him perform live. He was performing at a very intimate (tiny) club a few blocks from Arizona State University, where I was doing hard time. He was hilarious and, with no actual stage, performed his act about 12 feet from my table. I had hoped to talk with him at the bar following his show, but he excused himself to the men’s room for an extended period of time. I now have a pretty good idea why, but back then I was the Poster Boy for Naivete.
Time to Get Real
This downshift in his career could have been devastating, but once again, we’re dealing with George here. He responded by including in his act some socially stinging routines and some very angry diatribes with just the right amount of comedic observation to make people sit up and take notice of this “New George”. His album “FM & AM” was an attempt to provide entertainment for his original audience, while letting everyone know that those days were forever gone. Later albums like “Class Clown” left no doubt that George was packed up and heading into new territory.
A Voice For the Counterculture
The transformation from “straight comedian” to “counterculture performer” was a gamble for George, but it turned out to be not only successful, but well-timed. As George put it, this period of his career gave him a chance to finally finish going through the adolescence that he never had the opportunity to complete as a kid. Military service, touring, getting married, all seemed to postpone the kind of behavior that most equate with adolescence. Acting out, dressing oddly, rebelliousness, and drug use were now being integrated into his shows and this was good. It was good because it seemed that the entire country was going through this phase along with George. Perfect timing!
George’s star was on the rise again and among his accomplishments in the first years of the 70s was the release of the “Class Clown” and “Occupation: Foole”, and “On the Road’ albums. He was also the very first host of “Saturday Night Live” (although a seven-second tape delay was used….just in case).
Seven Words and the Supreme Court
During this time George worked to create and fine-tune his list of “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. That list was not without controversy and George was arrested for performing the routine at the Milwaukee Summerfest in 1972. In 1973 WBAI, a listener-sponsored Pacifica radio station in New York, played the album track on the air. Of course, this meant that someone had to file a complaint with the FCC. The case ultimately ended up before the United States Supreme Court and George was summoned to appear before them.
It’s difficult to imagine the scene as George was going through his routine and trying to explain it to the highest court in the land. His feeling when he heard he was going to appear was typical George; he thought that even if his side lost (it did!) and he ended up as just a legal footnote, he would be a very content footnote.
(If you ever get bored on a Sunday afternoon, go to your local law library and check out the case. You’ll find a complete transcript of the Seven Words right there in the Supreme Court Records. Who, but George could pull that off?)
IN the mid-70s, at an incredible high point in his career, with album deals, television performances, live tours, and more, George decided to take some needed time off. For the next five years he did almost no stand-up shows. The reasons why he left the scene, and where George went next will be covered in the next installment of this series.
Who is your favorite comedian? Have you had the chance to see them perform live? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!