January 17, 2020 | Phillip Hamilton

Uncensored Facts About Comedy Legend George Carlin

George Carlin was not content to follow the rules that society presented to him. Instead, he carved his own path to success. With over 100 late-night TV performances under his belt, 16 HBO specials, and over 20 comedy records, Carlin’s crude and anti-establishmentarian comedy stylings continue to bring laughter and inspiration to young comics around the globe. To get an idea of the true scope of his reach, here are 50 facts you may not have known about the always brilliant George Carlin.

1. Family of Talkers

Carlin could riff about almost anything onstage, a talent that may have come from his dad. In 1935 his dad won a nationwide Dale Carnegie public speaking contest for a speech titled, “The Power of Mental Demand.”

George Carlin facts Wikimedia Commons

2. Language Lover

Carlin loved the English language. He may have gotten this love from his grandfather, who would write out Shakespeare plays in longhand just for fun. Whatever floats your boat!

George Carlin facts Shutterstock

3. Class Clown

Carlin got expelled from his high school at 15 years old. He wasn’t the best student, often skipping class, failing subjects, and stealing money from the basketball teams’ lockers.

George Carlin facts Wikimedia Commons

4. Famous High

Carlin attended Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx. A few other famous faces have also come from the school, including Martin Scorsese, Don DeLillo, and Regis Philbin.

George Carlin factsWikipedia


5. Camp Kids Rule the World

During the summer, Carlin would frequently attend Camp Notre Dame on Spofford Lake in New Hampshire, and he won the camp drama award regularly. The place was so meaningful to him that he requested some of his ashes be spread at the lake upon his passing.

George Carlin factsFlickr, Keene Public Library

6. Air Force Fun

Carlin left school and became a radar technician for the US Air Force. This didn’t work out either. He got labeled an “unproductive airman” and was discharged after three court-martials.

George Carlin factsShutterstock

7. Coffee & Comedy

Carlin’s first steps into the comedy world came from a job as a radio DJ in Texas. He and fellow DJ Jack Burns teamed up and took to the stage at a Fort Worth coffeehouse, absolutely killing it. From there, Carlin knew what he wanted to do and the two went to California to try their hands at comedy for real.

George Carlin factsFlickr, Alex Butterfield

8. What a Character

Following his only comedy album with Burns, Carlin appeared on several variety shows. He played a few different characters on these, including a Native American sergeant, a hippy weatherman, and a stupid disc jockey.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

9. Host with the Most

The Tonight Show audience loved Carlin, and so did hosts Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. Both of them frequently brought him on as a guest host when they weren't available.

Johnny Carson factsThe Tonight Show (1962–1992), NBC


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10. Brothers in Obscenity

When fellow comedian Lenny Bruce was famously apprehended for obscenity, Carlin was there with him every step of the way. The authorities wanted to question Carlin, but when they asked for an ID he said he didn’t believe in government-issued identification. The cops weren't impressed, and they brought him in along with Bruce. They even took the same car to the slammer!

George Carlin factsWikipedia


11. Too Corporate, Man

Carlin started his career clean-cut and wearing suits, but he later hired two talent managers to overhaul his entire persona. He grew out his beard and started wearing jeans and t-shirts on-stage to appeal to the youth. He also started playing small, "cooler" venues like the Troubadour in LA or the Bitter End in NYC. It was a bold move, but it didn't pay off right away: his income dropped by about 90% at first.

George Carlin factsThe Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC

12. Very Important Research

As a kid, Carlin used to write down the best, most colorful swear words and curses he’d hear. He kept the list in his wallet. Unfortunately, his mother found this list one day and took it as a sign that he needed a psychiatrist!

George Carlin factsPxfuel

13. Not Quite Cars

Carlin’s final acting role was the voice of the wizard in the animated film Happily N’Ever After. The film was critically panned.

George Carlin factsHappily N

14. To All the Youngsters Out There

In an interview with Vulture, Carlin was asked if he had any advice for young comics. He said, “The most common mistake they make […] is not writing your s*** down. […] I think it’s unimaginable that people who want to be funny aren’t writing down every little aspect of it.” Take notes, young comics!

George Carlin factsGetty Images

15. Counterculture King Crowned

Carlin’s album FM & AM solidified his new status as a counterculture comedian. The “AM” side of the record represented Carlin’s old style, with clean and zany jokes. The “FM” side, however, touched on subjects like marijuana and birth control and featured a much edgier styling.

George Carlin factsShutterstock

16. What Can Ya Do?

The obscenity trial in Milwaukee over his “Seven Words” bit ended up getting dropped. The judge agreed that the language used was indecent, but free speech permitted him to say what he wanted. After the trial, Carlin started referring to the seven dirty words in the bit as “the Milwaukee seven.”

George Carlin factsThe Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC


17. 49 Dirtier Words

If anything, the obscenity trial only made Carlin love swearing more. He even set up a web page of his “List of Impolite Words.” The page features 49 dirty words. Clicking on these words will give you a list of fun synonyms for each one, giving you infinite new ways to offend your friends.

George Carlin factsShutterstock

18. A Necessary Break

At the height of his career, Carlin mysteriously stopped touring. He did a series of specials at the time, but people became curious. It was later revealed he had a heart attack, which led to him taking time off.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

19. Heart Troubles

Carlin suffered from three heart attacks throughout his life. The second came at a baseball game. Carlin didn’t think it was that serious when it was happening, but it turned out to be a near full blockage of his right descending artery. His limo driver rushed him to the hospital where they gave him an experimental heart drug to fix him up.

George Carlin factsWikimedia Commons

20. Carlin for Kids

While mostly known for his stand-up, Carlin also had a successful acting career. He was cast as Rufus in the Bill & Ted movies, played Mr. Conductor on PBS’ Shining Time Station, and even replaced Ringo Starr as the narrator for Thomas & Friends for five years.

George Carlin factsBill & Ted

21. Adorable Audience of One

Speaking of Thomas & Friends, Carlin was pretty nervous to do his narration without an audience. To make him more comfortable, the producers put a teddy bear in the recording booth. What a softy!

George Carlin factsThomas the Tank Engine & Friends (1984– ), BBC

22. Short but Sweet

TV work eventually led Carlin to his own sitcom, The George Carlin Show. It only lasted 27 episodes, but Carlin said of the experience, “I never laughed so much, so often, so hard as I did with cast members.” Conversely, he said he was glad it got canceled as it took him away from his true work.

George Carlin factsThe George Carlin Show (1994–1995), Warner Bros. Television


23. Brain to Book

Carlin’s Brain Droppings, a book of jokes, opinions, stories, and thoughts from the man himself, spent 40 weeks on the New York Times' best-sellers list.

George Carlin factsWikipedia

24. Lawmaker Carlin

Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” bit is so controversial it caused a California representative to introduce a bill to outlaw the seven dirty words on TV. The bill was ultimately tabled.

George Carlin factsShutterstock

25. Debt’s Silver Lining

Partly due to his drug problem, Carlin owed the IRS a lot of money at one time in his life. In the end, he saw this as a good thing, though: "It made me a way better comedian, because I had to stay out on the road, and I couldn’t pursue a movie career…So my having to stay on the road turned me into a god**** good comedian. So there’s a bright part of everything."

George Carlin factsThe Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC

26. What’s the Deal With Las Vegas?

Carlin performed as a headliner at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for a while…until issues with the audience led to his firing. After a bad set, he flat-out told the crowd he couldn’t wait to leave Vegas. He said, “People who go to Las Vegas, you've got to question their [bleeping] intellect to start with.” Harsh.

George Carlin factsWikimedia Commons

27. Everyone Needs Help

After the Vegas incident, Carlin decided to go to rehab citing drug and alcohol issues. He made this choice of his own initiative and came out two months later a sober man.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

28. Car(lin)s

One of Carlin’s last film roles was as the voice of Fillmore in Disney/Pixar’s Cars. Fillmore is an anti-establishment VW hippy bus, undoubtedly a reference to Carlin’s life. Fillmore’s license plate is even Carlin’s birthday, 51237!

George Carlin factsCars (2006), Pixar Animation Studios

29. Big Beautiful Language

In an interview with Inside the Actors Studio, Carlin said his biggest turn-on was “reading about language.” Try putting that on your next dating profile!

George Carlin factsGetty Images

30. Like Daughter Like Dad

Carlin has one offspring: his daughter Kelly. She worked with him on The George Carlin Show as a writer and wrote the script for the Rose McGowan film Devil in the Flesh. More recently, she hosted The Kelly Carlin Show on Sirius XM.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

31. Scattered

Carlin passed at the age of 71 due to heart failure, just a week after his last performance in Las Vegas. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in various places. In addition to the lake at his childhood campground, his ashes also ended up in front of various nightclubs across the US.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

32. Summer Camp Days

Nine-year-old Carlin attended summer camp with Dave Wilson, who went on to direct SNL. The two would perform stand-up routines together at the camp.

George Carlin factsSaturday Night Live (1975– ), NBC

33. Alter Boy to Proud Sinner

If there’s one thing Carlin tended to skewer on stage, it was religion. Considering this, it may come as a surprise that Carlin was an altar boy in his youth!

George Carlin factsThe Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC

34. Plagiarist Plucked

The Boston Globe fired writer Mike Barnicle from the paper for plagiarizing jokes from Carlin’s book Brain Droppings. Barnicle used a series of one-liners from the book in an article. This only raised sales of Carlin’s book, so Carlin wasn’t too mad about it.

George Carlin factsWikimedia Commons

35. Dropping Stars

When he was awarded his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Carlin requested it be put in front of KDAY studios. This was the radio station where he'd worked with Jack Burns back when he was getting his start.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

36. The Freaking FCC

The FCC owes a lot to Carlin. When his “Seven Dirty Words” routine aired on public radio, it triggered an FCC complaint by a dad whose son heard the routine while they were driving. This went to court, and nearly five years later the case was settled. It ruled in favor of the FCC and gave them the ability to censor radio and TV content.

George Carlin factsFLickr, Federal Communications Commission

37. Big Winner

Carlin won his fair share of awards throughout his career. His last HBO special, It’s Bad for Ya, won him a Grammy. He also won a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the American Comedy Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award!

George Carlin factsGetty Images

38. Immortalized in Concrete

Carlin continues to be immortalized by people across the globe. One of the latest moves is renaming the 400 block of West 121st Street in New York George Carlin Way.

George Carlin factsWikipedia

39. The Carlin Files

Unlike many comedians, Carlin kept extensive files full of his thoughts, ideas, jokes, and other information he might have been able to turn into material. He claimed to have about 1,300 separate files spanning 44 years of note collection.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

40. Survivor & Morphine

Carlin strictly hated many aspects of pop culture, but one of those was (maybe) not the show Survivor. In one stand-up special he riffs about being brain dead and wanting, “ice cream, morphine, and TV […] I wanna watch Survivor!” Is it an insult or a compliment? Only Carlin knows...

George Carlin factsShutterstock

41. Don’t Vote, Kids

This might rile some people up, but Carlin was not a voter. He believed every politician “sucked” and said he stayed home every election day, claiming, “if you vote, you have no right to complain.” Being a professional complainer, it would have been a pretty bad move for Carlin to vote!

George Carlin factsShutterstock

42. Dedicated Lover

Carlin’s first marriage to Brenda Hosbrook lasted 37 years. She passed of liver cancer late in their lives, in 1997. The next year, Carlin remarried to Sally Wade, saying it was “love at first sight,” but was hesitant because his wife had just passed. Again, the softy shines through here.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

43. Escaping Dad

Patrick Carlin, George’s father, was abusive. When Carlin was only two months old his mother took him and his brother and escaped from Patrick by climbing down the fire escape. His uncle drove them to safety, and Carlin never saw his dad again.

George Carlin factsGetty Images

44. The Man Who Almost Wasn’t

When Carlin's mother first found out she was pregnant, she decided that she wasn't ready to have a child and made plans to have an abortion. She even made it as far as the clinic waiting room, but while waiting she saw a wall painting that reminded her of her mother and took it as a sign that she should keep the baby.

Jack Nicholson factsshutterstock

45. The Tools of Transformation

Carlin was a heavy marijuana smoker and took up LSD and mescaline around the age of 30. He said the drugs helped him transform himself. They gave him more insight into how fake the world was and convinced him to stop settling for it.

George Carlin factsThe Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC

46. Funnies from the Future

Carlin’s mother and aunt worked in the New York office of the Philadelphia Bulletin. Because of this, his aunt would frequently show him newspaper comics four weeks before publication. Carlin said in an interview, “I guess you can realize the power this gave me in the schoolyard—to be able to predict weeks ahead of time precisely the way Mandrake the Magician would escape from the lost cave.”

George Carlin factsWikimedia Commons

47. Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea

While he’s remembered as one of the greatest comedians of all time, not everyone was down with Carlin. Once, during a show in Wisconsin, Carlin told some jokes about the Vietnam War that his mostly conservative audience didn’t enjoy. How much did they hate him? Soon after he got off stage, he was advised to get out of town quickly for his own safety.

George Carlin factsPxfuel

48. A Flood of Tributes

After his passing, the Carlin tributes came pouring in. HBO broadcast a 12-hour marathon of his content, and SNL reran the episode he hosted. Sirius XM's Raw Dog Comedy ran a marathon of Carlin recordings, and have even devoted a whole channel to him now, called Carlin’s Corner. Jerry Seinfeld even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, titled "Dying is Hard. Comedy is Harder", praising Carlin and his contributions to comedy.

John Mulaney FactsGetty Images

49. Here’s to the Band

Carlin was once apprehended on obscenity charges for performing his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” bit, but the charges could have been much worse. Carlin had drugs in his pocket at the time of performing! Thankfully, he was able to hand the baggy off to the band before heading backstage, where the authorities were waiting for him.

George Carlin factsShutterstock

50. SNLegend

Carlin was Saturday Night Live's first host ever. That’s a pretty big deal, but one that the comedian couldn’t actually remember. He was on a crazy bender that whole week, including the night of the show.

George Carlin factsSaturday Night Live (1975– ), NBC

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

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