Life With A Comedian Isn't Always Funny
Kelly Carlin, George Carlin's daughter, released a new memoir called A Carlin Home Companion, about growing up as the only daughter of one of the greatest comedians of all time. (This encore piece first aired on All Things Considered on Sept. 15.)
ARUN RATH, HOST:
The late George Carlin is a giant among comedians. For Kelly Carlin, he was Dad. In her new memoir, Kelly Carlin writes about what it was like being raised by a comedic genius. Here he is from a 1999 HBO special, ranting about overprotective parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "YOU ARE ALL DISEASED")
GEORGE CARLIN: You know what it is? These baby boomers - these soft, fruity baby boomers - are raising an entire generation of soft, fruity kids who aren't even allowed to have hazardous toys, for Christ sakes. Hazardous toys - [expletive]. Whatever happened to natural selection - survival of the fittest? The kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own.
KELLY CARLIN: I'd sat in the audience listening to this, going, well, of course this disgusts him because, you know, he was the ultimate laissez-faire parent.
RATH: Kelly Carlin's book is called "A Carlin Home Companion," but as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports in this encore presentation, her childhood was like nothing you'd find in Lake Wobegon.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: There are some harrowing moments of her as a little girl alone with her mom and famous dad George, both of them wasted on drugs and alcohol.
K. CARLIN: (Reading) We had spent the entire day in the bar in Lahaina so my dad could score some coke and weed.
BLAIR: Here, Kelly is 11 years old in a hotel room with her parents in Hawaii.
K. CARLIN: (Reading) The coke was running low. Mom wanted more, and Dad wouldn't share. They fought, threatened divorce and argued about every trespass they'd ever committed against each other in their 14 years together. Then Mom picked up a kitchen knife, and Dad did, too. I screamed and hurled myself between them. Stop, stop. Please just stop this.
BLAIR: They did, and little Kelly became the adult.
K. CARLIN: I wrote out a U.N.-style peace treaty that stated, I, George Carlin/Brenda Carlin, will no longer buy or snort cocaine, drink alcohol or argue with each other for the rest of the vacation. The undersigned agrees to these conditions so that we can all have a perfect Hawaiian vacation. I even drew those little lines with their names underneath, and they both signed it.
BLAIR: And they both broke it almost immediately. Kelly Carlin writes she spent the rest of the vacation as far away from them as she could and pretended to everyone she met that she was having the perfect Hawaiian vacation. She says very early on, she became an expert at figuring out what drugs her parents were on.
K. CARLIN: I could tell - was Mom drunk? Was she just waking up and have a hangover? Had Dad been up for a few days with cocaine? Or has he - was he just smoking some weed, and he's just, you know, kind of mellow? Have they been arguing? Are they getting along? Walking on egg shells doesn't even begin to explain it.
BLAIR: Meantime, George Carlin's career was soaring. In the 1970s, he was selling out shows on college campuses. His albums were bestsellers. He was a regular on TV, like here on "The Flip Wilson Show."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLIP WILSON SHOW")
G. CARLIN: Hey, baby, what's happening? Que pasa? Here's the hippie-dippy weatherman with all the hippie-dippy weather, man.
BLAIR: He was stirring up trouble and making history with seven words and became the very first host of a new show called "Saturday Night Live."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
G. CARLIN: Football is played in a stadium. Baseball is played in a park.
G. CARLIN: In football, you wear a helmet. In baseball, you wear a cap.
BLAIR: George Carlin was high a lot in those days, but he was also a perfectionist who worked at his craft incessantly. Jerry Hamza was Carlin's manager and best friend for 35 years.
JERRY HAMZA: I would tell people, well, where's George? He's up in the trees because what he wanted to do was write. He wanted to go away, be by himself and write.
BLAIR: When Carlin wasn't writing, he and Hamza were on the road.
HAMZA: I spent more time with him than his wife or his daughter.
BLAIR: At the same time, Kelly Carlin says, she has many joyful memories of her dad. You can imagine how much fun it would be to watch TV shows like "Carol Burnett" and "Wild Kingdom" with George Carlin.
K. CARLIN: Especially the fun animal shows because he would do all the voices, and it was way more entertaining than the actual show.
BLAIR: They also bonded around music.
K. CARLIN: The early Stones and Cream and early Van Morrison and The Band was big to Dad.
BLAIR: The first song Kelly Carlin learned to sing was "Bungalow Bill" from The Beatles' "White Album."
K. CARLIN: Because, you know, there were kids in it. You know, (singing) all the children sing. I mean, I remember skipping around the house, singing the words at the top of my lungs - hey, Bungalow Bill, who did you kill, Bungalow Bill? - having no idea what that was about.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUNGALOW BILL")
THE BEATLES: (Singing) Hey, Bungalow Bill. What did you kill, Bungalow Bill?
BLAIR: Reading "A Carlin Home Companion," you get the sense that growing up the daughter of George Carlin was both a dream and a nightmare. Kelly Carlin writes about her own drug use and the years it took to find her own voice - not easy when your dad's voice is one of the most distinctive in the country.
K. CARLIN: This book has always felt like unfinished business. I wanted to tell my survivor's tale of how I found my way through the chaos.
BLAIR: When George Carlin died in 2008, Kelly says the outpouring from her dad's fans was overwhelming. Comedians who worshiped him shared their grief with her, Garry Shandling, Richard Belzer, Lewis Black and John Stewart among them.
K. CARLIN: (Reading) My father was gone, but I was not alone. I didn't have to fear falling down a rabbit hole of grief because these men were stretching out their hearts and declaring, we are here for you. I realized that these men were, in some ways, my father's other children. He had inspired, shaped and determined their lives as much as he had shaped mine. They, too, were his heirs. I felt an instant kinship with them. They were my brothers and uncles. I felt a net of love and light catch me and carry me forward.
BLAIR: Today, Kelly Carlin hosts a radio show on SiriusXM. She wrote and performed a one-woman show, also called "A Carlin Home Companion." She and George Carlin's longtime friend Jerry Hamza are very much the keepers of his legacy. And you can believe she's got a great sense of humor - small wonder with a dad like that. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LIFE IS WORTH LOSING")
G. CARLIN: I'm new wave, but I'm old school, and my inner child is outward bound. I'm a hot-wired, heat-seeking, warm-hearted cool customer, voice-activated and biodegradable. I interface in my database, and my database is in cyberspace, so I'm interactive, I'm hyperactive, and, from time to time, I'm radioactive. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.