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When people ask Kelly Carlin what she thinks her father, George Carlin, would say if he were around for this election, she quotes him: “When you’re bored, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re bored in America, you get a front-row seat.”
Carlin spoke last night at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan at an event hosted by the National Comedy Center. NCC will open the National Museum of Comedy, a $50 million-plus project in Jamestown, N.Y., (where Lucille Ball was born) in 2017. Jamestown hopes to brand itself as the comedy capital a la Cooperstown with the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The nonprofit interactive museum also will function as a venue for stand-up and other programming. “The museum doesn’t want to be called a hall of fame or even a center, but whatever they are, I think they’re going to be successful,” Jerry Foley, the Emmy Award-winning director of the Late Show With David Letterman, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Jack Rouse Associates — the exhibit builders responsible for such varied experiences as Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi and the Crayola Experience in Easton, Penn — and interactive specialist Local Projects, which recently won a Cannes International Creativity award for its work on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, are the creative forces on the museum. The latter will resurrect George Carlin as a hologram act in an adults-only Blue Room in the museum’s basement.
Kelly Carlin, who last year published a memoir about life with her father, passed up the Smithsonian to donate his archives to the National Comedy Center. It amounts to a hoarder’s trove of eight steamer trunks, including drafts of scripts, 8-track tapes, videos of appearances, clippings, photographs, memorabilia and the arrest report from his standup routine at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 1972 (he was charged with violating obscenity laws). “He kept everything. There are these folders where he lists every single appearance on a late-night show — who was hosting, what bit he did — and sometimes he paper-clipped a set list to it.”
This setlist is for the last of George Carlin’s 11 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1971 — the final live show for the program. (Photo: National Comedy Center)
June marks the eighth anniversary of Carlin’s death. Onstage, Carlin fille recounted gathering her father’s old Catholic neighborhood friends to disperse his ashes in Riverside Park, where, at the age of 12, he’d started drinking beer and smoking weed. “We proceeded to have a pagan ash-throwing ritual,” Carlin told us. “These beautiful Catholics were sticking their hands in the [urn] and throwing [the remains], and the ashes were going up and staying in the air — it was magical.” She’d also taken a small baggie of ashes down to Greenwich Village, where her dad’s career had started in the ‘60s, and ended up in the audience of a Richard Belzer set.
“I go backstage, and Gilbert Gottfried is backstage. Now, I am terrified of Gilbert Gottfried,” she said, switching gears into his Aflac duck voice, impersonating him: “What are you doing here in New York City?” She explained that she’d come to spread her father’s ashes. He said, “Do you have any on you?” Carlin replied no. “I didn’t know what he was going to do with it! I thought he might eat them, snort them.” Then Gottfried asked her: “Whose career is more dead: Mine or Carly’s?”
Comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff, who was announced last night as the museum’s chief curator, also moderated a seriously funny panel in Carlin’s honor that included Kelly with comedic hyphenates Larry Wilmore, Robert Klein, Lizz Winstead and Lewis Black. The panelists remembered Carlin for bringing subversive comedy to the fore, in effect giving stand-ups permission to be demonstrative. “I was a kid,” Wilmore recalled, “watching this stuff, thinking, ‘You can say this? Who are these people?'”
Turning their attention to the state of the union, Winstead related the bad blind date that landed her in a sports bar in 1991, watching live coverage of the Gulf War. “I was thinking, ‘Are they reporting on a war or trying to sell a war?’ I became this voracious information consumer, and my acts started to change.” She co-founded The Daily Show.
“I wanted the media to be a character in the show,” she said. “What I think Jon [Stewart] did with the show that really made it sail was he was smart enough to become the voice of all of us and surround himself with the clowns that portray the media.” Winstead added, “These [politically satirical] shows exist, and I can say that because I made one of them, because the media wasn’t doing its job. … But the clown puts it forward.”
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