For the better part of the past six years, Kelly Carlin (photographed above by Dan Dion) has been processing and sharing the lessons from her life as the only child of a comedy legend, first as a stage show — “A Carlin Home Companion” — and now in a published memoir of the same title.
She handed in a 336-page manuscript to her editor on Sunday.
I have finished the entire manuscript of my book! Now it’s just some fine tuning. I am almost completely DONE! Wow. I’m in awe.
— Kelly Carlin (@kelly_carlin) August 25, 2014
When Kelly Carlin spoke to The Comic’s Comic earlier this month, she was hard at work on the chapter about George Carlin‘s death in 2008, looking forward to celebrating the rechristening of West 121st Street in New York City’s Morningside Heights as George Carlin Way, and also prepping a new posthumous CD of her father’s stand-up.
“It’s really weird. This writing process,” she said. “I can dip into it and be fully present inside what I’m writing, and it spills over. Today has been a weird day.” Recalling the month after her father died in June 2008 and spreading his ashes.
“It’s one thing to be on a stage in front of 100 people with the momentum of the story going and dipping into these moments briefly…they last 2,3,4 minutes. Whereas writing a chapter takes me anywhere from 5 to 10 days,” she said. “So it’s a lot of hours of sitting with the material. And I’m really trying to bring it alive.”
“I’ve found the last nine months of writing this book, overall, there’s a different kind of anxiety going on, but my general neurotic bullshit depression and anxiety that comes from having a creative mind, becomes distracted. No time to obsess on things that aren’t real.”
Kelly Carlin, 51, served as a production assistant on two of her father’s earliest HBO specials in the 1970s. In the 1990s, she co-wrote an episode of The George Carlin Show, as well as the screenplay for the 1998 movie, Devil in the Flesh, starring Rose McGowan. More recently, she helped produce The Green Room with Paul Provenza on Showtime. Provenza returned the favor by directing her one-woman stage production of “A Carlin Home Companion.”
She currently hosts two audio shows — “The Kelly Carlin Show” monthly on SiriusXM, and the “Waking from the American Dream” podcast on Smodcast; the latter has been on hiatus since May while she has been writing her memoir.
Carlin told The Comic’s Comic that her agenda also includes converting old cassette recordings of her father’s live stand-up concerts into a fitting posthumous CD or CDs.
“My dad left me lots of shit. And I use the word ‘shit’ because it’s his stuff, not mine. So it’s shit,” she said. “One of the things he left is a cardboard box of cassettes from his concerts all the way from the ’60s, all the way to before he died. Ones that were seminal to him or important. At the bottom he had left a note..it listed all the important concerts and they were seminal in his life in some way. We have been, my dear colleague Logan Heftel, has been digitizing all these tapes, listening for new material, and listening just to listen.”
“We found some concerts,” she said, “the summer after my dad had recorded Class Clown, but the record wasn’t out yet, so the audience wasn’t familiar with the material. It’s these live shows from the early ’70s, which was a very different George Carlin than you got in the 1990s or the oughts…these early shows, he’s loose, he’s talking to the audience, he’s going off on tangents.”
“We’re going to release some of these. I think we’re going to call them George’s Private Stash. We don’t know when we’re going to release them. But it is very exciting,” she said. “I know Carlin fans, especially comedy geeks, will love this stuff. Maybe 90 percent is stuff you’ve heard, but it’s live, it’s raw. He’s stoned. Or he’s doing one of his bits for the first time.”
I remember seeing him test out what would become his final show, 2008’s “It’s Bad For Ya,” in February 2007 at the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. He was still reading it from big sheets of paper then.
“His process is famous now,” Kelly Carlin said, adding that she enjoys showing that process to comedians who come to visit her. “He has Ziploc baggies of different subject matters…inside are little torn sheets of paper, from the multitude of notes he’s taken. Then he would take these bags and form a hunk out of it. Jimmy Dore was over here a couple of months ago, just the look on Jimmy’s face, it’s so beautiful. There’s this moment where they’re having a personal moment with this man’s material.”
Whereas her book is about her own personal moments with her father, her monthly SiriusXM program, “The Kelly Carlin Show,” is an interview show that allows her to gain access into the thought process of other comedians. Extended versions of the interviews also air on the “Carlin’s Corner” channel.
“I have always been fascinated with the creative process, whether it’s a painter, or an author or a writer,” she said. “What it takes to get out of our own way to do the work…your inspiration. I just talked to Fred Willard. Fred Willard, oh my God! He’s so casually talented. (she laughs) He’s so incredibly talented and yet he’s so casual about it. In some ways he’s just doing Fred. So it was an honor to sit down with him and have that kind of conversation.”
“I want to represent the Carlin name well on the Sirius show. I want to be an upstanding individual,” she said.
As a budding artist, she enjoys being in the process as well as hearing about it.
“Sometimes I talk to comics I don’t know so well,” she said. “I’m not a comedy geek. I’m not a comedy nerd. I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of comedians. I did hear Steve Martin and watch Monty Python. So I get to learn also.” She learned even more working on The Green Room with Paul Provenza in 2011 for Showtime. “I was getting Comedy Education 101 from Paul,” she said. “The 100 comics I know now, it’s all because of Paul.”
She didn’t learn about other comedians through her father; certainly didn’t develop a desire to go onstage herself.
“My dad discouraged me,” she said. “‘Ah, you don’t want to be a Carlin on the stage.’ I know he was trying to protect me.” If she had pursued a stage career, it would have been sketch and not stand-up, anyhow. How would anyone else measure up to George Carlin? How would she? “When it’s your dad and he’s your hero, you have a bit of a bias, anyway. Music has always been more important to me than comedy.”
Her interest in the arts, however, continued broadly throughout her young adulthood. “It took me a while to hone in on, what do I really want to do? That continued into my 30s and my 40s. But I love being a writer. I love writing. It’s a great sense of satisfaction and fulfillment,” she said.
So, too, the fulfillment and accomplishment of seeing another comedian’s bid to have her father’s and grandparents’ street named in his honor. The New York City Council officially passed a bill in July renaming his childhood block of West 121st Street as George Carlin Way.
“I think my dad should be honored in that way,” she said. “That neighborhood meant everything to my dad, until the day he died.”
Her grandmother continued living in The Miami building until the early 1980s.
“I’m thrilled for Kevin Bartini. He worked his ass off to get this (renaming) done,” she said, adding that a public celebration of the George Carlin Way renaming should happen this fall, possibly in November when the New York Comedy Festival comes around. “We don’t know when it’s going to happen,” she said. “We’ve got some irons in the fire.”