George Carlin's shadow looms over Just for Laughs

Comedian never attended festival

George Carlin never played Just for Laughs, a detail that might loom large this year given the legendary comedian's death on June 22. Why he failed to perform there is a mystery: He was invited numerous times but was unable to commit, according to his agent, Steve Levine at ICM.

Levine speculates that Carlin's longtime affiliation with HBO and its sponsorship of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (now dubbed the Comedy Festival) "may have been a contributing factor."

But Carlin will certainly be on hand in spirit on Friday, July 18, when comedian Paul Provenza (who directed 2005's "The Aristocrats") will present a tribute to Carlin at the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire.

Provenza had yet to finalize the participants at press time, but he described the event as "a bunch of comedians and myself participating in a free-flowing conversation about Carlin, where there's no limits to the language. It's going to sound like the way we talk backstage, and we're allowing the audience to listen in. We'll be talking about how this great man affected us so much individually as comedians and why we respected him. But that's all it's going to be: No stand-up -- just sharing thoughts and memories."

Provenza's personal history with Carlin was restricted to a few conversations, though he included him among the comics interviewed for "The Aristocrats." But, he says, "There aren't many comedians of my generation who weren't profoundly affected by Carlin's work and style. His art, his integrity, they were the standard for all of us. I thought the best way to honor what this guy did for comedy would be to gather people whom he in some way impacted and celebrate him in words."