Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Last Words" by George Carlin with Tony Hendra

There are comedians - and then there's George Carlin. I loved his style of comedy, which wasn't really so much about making people laugh but seemed more about making them think. I was very sad when he died of a heart attack, thinking of all the great things he'd never got to say. Until now...

Except that this is not more of his comedy. It's about his life, his beginnings both as a person and as a comedian. And wow - there's so much to tell about his life! I learned a great deal about Carlin the man from this book, what he calls his "sortabiography" (he thought the idea of an "autobiography" was very arrogant). He doesn't cover everything, but he does cover a lot, including his Catholic upbringing, his parents (a lot about his mother!), his brother, his wife, etc.

Then there's his work. I had no idea that he'd been several of the old variety shows, that he'd been part of a comedy team at one point, that he'd done the "usual shtick" kind of work. By the time I started watching him, he'd already found his true voice and was doing the sort of thinking stuff that I loved. I thought the chapters were he worked on what he really wanted to be doing on stage were fascinating - I never knew that he'd gone through anything like that. (I have very found memories of seeing him in the 80s - got a T-shirt that said "Simon Says... go f**k yourself!")

There are also chapters about the dark times in his life, mostly dealing with his addictions. He's very honest about his coke habit, and even admits that he doesn't remember a lot of things. One great story is about his infamous hosting of the very first Saturday Night Live, how they had to break down the door to get him on stage, and how he was sitting in front of a mound of blow. He says he has no recollection of that incident, but given how much coke he was doing at the time, it's entirely possible it happened just as legend has it. He really has no idea. There are the marital problems due to his habits, and his wife's, as well as their working thru them. There's a whole section on his wife's battle with cancer, and how George stood by her the whole time. They were married until she died. Luckily, he found love again late in life, the sort he says that's love-at-first-sight. Makes me happy.

If you're a Carlin fan, this book is definitely for you. If you like comedy and want to read about someone who was in the business for years, this book is for you. If you like biographies, well, this book is probably for you, too. Great read, and thanks to Tony Hendra for allowing us one last time with George.

No comments: