“Everybody’s gotta have a little place for their stuff. That’s all life is about. Trying to find a place for your stuff.” — George Carlin
It’s one of his most famous routines and, like all great comedy, contains more than a grain of truth.
Since he died eight years ago, the keeper of George Carlin’s “stuff” has been his daughter, writer and performer Kelly Carlin. She says he kept everything: Scrapbooks. Arrest records. The pink slip to his first car, a Dodge Dart. VHS tapes.
From “handwritten notes of his actual working on comedy ideas to his kind of OCD-esque way of making lists of things, like every routine he ever did on a late night show,” she says. “When comedians would come over to my house and I would say, ‘Do you want to take a glance at my dad’s stuff?’ Their eyes would light up. I knew how to get to their hearts immediately,” she says, laughing.
George Carlin remains one of the most influential stand-up comedians of all time. At a private event Tuesday night in New York, his daughter announced she’s donating his archives to the National Comedy Center, which is expected to open next year in Jamestown, N.Y.
This is The National Comedy Center’s first, major donation, says chief curator Kliph Nesteroff. They’re thrilled. “George Carlin had the eternal respect of every person in stand-up and still does,” says Nesteroff, who wrote the book The Comedians. “George Carlin, more so than probably any other major comedian you could name, was a complete historian of his own career.”
In addition to a permanent exhibit of Carlin’s “stuff,” Nesteroff says there are plans to create holograms of the giants of American comedy, including Carlin.
One of the many artifacts that will make Carlin aficionados’ eyes pop is a script he typed up for an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. Hand-written notes are scribbled in the margins. Lines are crossed out, with “Did on Leno” scrawled across them. The words to one joke are changed, from “lobster tails” to “rack of lamb.”
The archives also include unreleased material, like this bit from a show in 2000 about government department names that don’t make sense.
Kelly Carlin says she had “fantasies” of her dad’s archives going to the Smithsonian but decided against even trying because she feared his “stuff” would end up in a vault somewhere.
“Y’know like that last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Ark of the Covenant just goes into a warehouse somewhere,” Carlin laughs. “I mean, bless them, but I pictured my dad’s stuff just going into an archive and not being seen by anyone.” She adds that George Carlin’s archives are a different kind of attraction. “It’s not Archie Bunker’s chair or Judy Garland’s shoes from The Wizard of Oz. I wanted his stuff to be experienced by comedy nerds and comedy fans and to be really appreciated,” she says.
To experience Carlin’s meticulously archived “stuff” from some 50 years in comedy, fans will need to make the pilgrimage to far western New York. Jamestown is a city dedicated to comedy. It’s Lucille Ball’s hometown and home to an annual comedy festival, now in its 25th year.