Comedians honoring George Carlin

Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin among performers

WASHINGTON -- The late comedian George Carlin -- famous for those "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" -- will be honored Monday night with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the only award he saw as a legitimate comedy prize.

Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin and Joan Rivers will be among the comedians performing at the awards ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The prize was announced shortly before Carlin died of heart failure in June at the age of 71. This is the first time in its 11 years that the award will be presented posthumously. The program will be aired later on PBS stations.

"He was thrilled," Carlin's daughter, Kelly Carlin McCall, told the Associated Press shortly before the award ceremony. "I think he represented a lot of what Mark Twain did for our country, not only being smart and funny but also being a sharp commentator."

The Twain Prize was instituted in 1998 and first given to comedian and actor Richard Pryor. Recent recipients have included Billy Crystal in 2007 and Steve Martin in 2005.

Carlin had great respect for the prize and its previous honorees, said Jerry Hamza, Carlin's longtime manager and best friend. Carlin "always flipped" over the comedy of Tomlin and Pryor, two previous recipients.

"He would have been humbly grateful," Hamza told The AP. "Also George, who throughout his career was perceived as an outsider or maverick, had a real desire to connect with other comedians. He loved being in that club."

Carlin's career as a comedian, actor and author spanned more than 50 years. He was paired for a brief time with Jack Burns, his longtime friend, then went solo in 1962, growing his hair long and embracing the counterculture movement of the era.

He would record 23 comedy albums, win four Grammys and make more than a dozen TV specials for HBO.

His "Seven Words" routine was arguably his most famous. It was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on free speech that upheld the government's right to sanction broadcasters who air offensive language when children might be listening.

Carlin remained active right up until his death, and his 14th and final HBO special, "It's Bad for Ya," in which he mocks death, is scheduled for release on DVD on Nov. 25. His 1984 album, "Carlin on Campus," was rereleased this month.

When her father died, McCall said, he left behind an uncompleted autobiography. It is scheduled to be published next year, with herself, Carlin's brother, Patrick, and others filling in the parts he didn't get to finish.

On Monday night, there are sure to be some political jokes in the mix as Stewart, Bill Maher, Margaret Cho and others take the stage in Carlin's honor. Though Carlin said he didn't vote in presidential elections, he was a keen political observer -- and commentator.

"On certain things you'd call him a lefty," Hamza said. "On other things, you'd be surprised how conservative he might be ... He was all for the (Iraq) war until he found out the basis was false."

Carlin was enthralled by the 2008 election, Hamza said. He had been an early supporter of Hillary Clinton but later switched sides.

"When he saw that a black guy could wind up with this, he was so excited," Hamza said of Barack Obama's election. "It's too bad he didn't live long enough. That would have really, really made him happy."