George Carlin returns

February 20, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

In Sister Nina's fifth-grade class at Corpus Christi grade school in New York City, 11-year-old George Carlin answered the question on the last page of the "little autobiography" he had to write:

"What do you want to be in the future?"

"I said I want to be an actor, musician, impersonator, comedian, announcer or disc jockey."

Sister Nina, who Carlin says is now 81 or 82 and "very sharp and fast and alert and notices everything," came to see her former student's show when he was in Wisconsin a few weeks ago.

Even in fifth grade, Carlin says he knew he needed to be in front of folks.

Carlin will be in front of folks for two shows at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. He performed at the theater in 1999.


He probably won't be singing "Maana" or "Near You" as he did in that classroom, but he says it was then that he first kind of emerged.

Carlin quit school in the middle of ninth grade.

"They weren't teaching what I needed, and I knew I had my plan," he says. "I didn't want to deal with algebra, Latin II, trigonometry." He points out that he loved Latin I. "It was all vocabulary and grammar."

When did he first become fascinated with words?

"It's genetic. My grandfather wrote out Shakespeare's works in longhand during his life for the joy it gave him. My mother was extremely interested in language," he says. She picked up the "Irish language gene" from her father and passed it to her son.

Carlin began his professional career in radio at age 19 in Shreveport, La., while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

"I thought radio was a good easy way to start without an audience in front of you. Develop your voice, your character, your personality on the air and take that to clubs with different material and then have that lead you to acting possibilities," he says.

He's done some acting through the years. His Web site,, includes a detailed timeline, which lists movie and television roles and some rather harsh self-criticism.

Carlin says he's not hard on himself. "I'm just an accurate reporter. I wasn't very good at all."

"And then the world was changing," Carlin says. "The '60s were in place," he explains.

He allowed himself to be the person he had suppressed for a long time - the outlaw, the rebel, the outsider.

Fortunately there was a vehicle, Carlin says. "There was a young culture out there that wanted to hear people who had some defiance and some rebellion in them."

Carlin, now 65, does 80 to 90 shows a year. He also does eight weeks a year in Las Vegas. About every two years, he takes one hour out of his show, makes a concert out of it, licenses it to HBO and then makes a CD out of it. "That's gone on 12 times for 25 years so that's kind of the way this thing works."

Carlin has developed 60 percent of the material planned for Hagerstown since his November 2001 "Complaints and Grievances" on HBO.

Carlin's comedy albums have gone gold and have been nominated for Grammys. He's won four. His Emmy nominations include his HBO specials and his portrayal of Mister Conductor on Public Broadcasting System's "Shining Time Station."

Carlin has written three books - "Napalm & Silly Putty," the latest, was released in 2001.

Why does he work so hard?

"Why do people pursue what they love in life that they're good at and well-rewarded for?" Carlin answers with a question.

"This is what I do. I'm a writer who performs his stuff, and so it becomes the thing, you know, around which everything rotates or revolves," he says.

Carlin has continued to act. His self-reviews are more favorable.

He plays Ben Affleck's father in director Kevin Smith's "Jersey Girl," a film that also stars Affleck's high-profile financee, Jennifer Lopez.

The film was a lot of fun, Carlin says. "I felt the work was better." But he says he's still not a good judge of it when he's doing it.

He's not sure when it will be released. "I assume that the people at Miramax, the marketing people, will be trying to factor in the wedding," he says.

Carlin also is working on a show for the Broadway stage. "Watch Your Language," in two acts, is all about American language.

The show contains no profanity, unlike his now-classic "Seven Dirty Words" routine. Carlin says he doesn't need bad words in this show, and he thinks it's an additional signal that this is a new, different mood.

"This isn't George bringing his stuff to Broadway."

He's not planning to get on stage with it until the fall of 2005.

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