Support the news
George Carlin's often controversial career as a comic, social critic and actor spanned half a century. The comedy routine in which he drew various distinctions between baseball and football — some of them silly, some profound — outlived its creator, who died 10 years ago.
Kelly Carlin is George’s only child. Like many kids without siblings, she spent a lot of time entertaining herself. She remembers the day it must have occurred to her father, who was performing all over the country, that perhaps it would be a good idea to add to his repertoire the role of available dad.
"I was about 11 years old, and my dad had been on the road a lot," she recalls. "My mother was having difficulties with her alcoholism and was really becoming more and more unfunctional, really. And my dad recognized there was a void in the parenting department. And he decided that one way we could connect and spend some more time together would be for him to teach me how to A) throw a baseball, B) how to catch a ball and C) how to hit a ball."
George Carlin not only came home … he came home with a ball, a bat and a couple of gloves.
"And we went down to a park in our neighborhood, and he taught me how to do all those things," Kelly says. "And it was great. I mean, it was fun. It’s not like I had any real desire to do that kind of stuff, but I got to spend time with my dad."
"Did you have the feeling at that point that he really loved baseball?" I asked Kelly. "Because he could have taught you fly fishing. He could have taken you to some place where you could toss horseshoes. I mean, anything."
"I think if we had had stickball in my neighborhood growing up, he would have been teaching me stickball, because that’s what he played on the streets of New York City as a kid," Kelly says.
Heart Full Of Baseball
From stickball, young George Carlin moved on to baseball.
"He was one of those kids who loved the Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke his heart by moving to Los Angeles," Kelly says. "And then he later became a Mets fan."
"That's fascinating," I say. "The Dodgers move to L.A., then he moved to L.A., but he didn't remain a Dodgers fan."
"Oh, no," Kelly says. "I believe once you cross George Carlin, it will take a long time for forgiveness."
Maybe forgiveness was a problem for the Dodgers, too. Maybe what happened to Carlin during a Dodgers-Mets game he attended in the mid-80s was a result of the team’s revenge for his bailing on them when they went west.
"Somewhere in the fourth or fifth inning, I think it was, he started having some chest symptoms," Kelly says. "And he looked at his manager and he said, 'I think I’m having a heart attack.' And he actually was. And they jumped in the limo, and this limo driver got them from Dodger Stadium — which is downtown, the heart of downtown — all the way to my dad’s hospital in Santa Monica in under 20 minutes. And, thankfully, that hospital happened to be using an experimental anticoagulant that weekend. And they gave him some of that, and it broke up the clot that was damaging his heart. So the Dodgers and the Mets gave my dad a heart attack in the '80s."
That’s the sort of experience Carlin would feel compelled to turn into a routine. In fact, according to his daughter, he saw possibilities in almost everything that happened to him.
"So, my dad’s creative process was to write everything down," she says. "Anything that fascinated him, or kind of took his fancy, he would write it down, knowing that there’s something in this. So there would be these little strips of paper that he would get that would have a sentence or two on them. And then he would collect enough of these little scraps of paper into separate, little topics, like 'words,' or 'kids' — or 'death,' knowing my dad."
On some of those scraps there were notes about sports, or names of players, or characteristics of games.
As it happened, despite sessions of catch with her father, Kelly Carlin didn’t become a baseball player. She spent a lot of time on horseback as a youngster, and eventually she discovered the joys of golf, which must’ve surprised her father.
Ah, well. What child hasn’t found it necessary to rebel against a parent at some point? So, Kelly Carlin: golfer.
'Compare And Contrast'
But her father probably forgave her, because he had learned many years before his daughter took up the game he called "meaningless and mindless" how much she appreciated his work, sometimes perhaps despite herself.
"I went back to UCLA at age 25," Kelly says. "I’d taken seven years off, decided to go back as a freshman. And because I hadn’t been in school for seven years, they made me take remedial English class."
Kelly says she was surrounded by athletes. Her young professor’s task was to prepare the students and student-athletes to write acceptable college essays.
"And so he comes into the classroom one morning," Kelly recalls, "and he says, 'Today we’re going to learn a little essay type. It’s called compare and contrast. You’ll be asked a lot to use this kind of device in essay writing, and so I’m gonna do something a little different here today. I’m going to actually play you a tape of someone who’s written the perfect compare and contrast essay.' And he pushes the play button, and my father’s baseball-football routine begins.
"And I’m sitting there and I’m thinking, 'Great. Here I am at UCLA, forging my own way into the world, finally, and my father has followed me.' And then I ran home to tell my dad. And he was thrilled. My dad loved, loved, loved that this kid who had dropped out of school in junior high, who had been kicked out of every official institution in his life, was being used as the perfect example of a college essay."
The young professor who liked George Carlin’s baseball vs. football routine enough to play it in class had — and has — lots of company. Plenty of listeners who’ve heard bits of the comedy bit will recall it with a smile. And for Kelly Carlin, who’s a writer and host of a radio show, there’s more to it than that.
"I would say every time I watch baseball or football, my father’s routine will jump into my head. It’s just there. It’s like, 'Ah, there he is. There’s Dad, making his mark.' "
A new George Carlin career retrospective box set was released this past week. Beginning in August, you’ll be able to find the George Carlin Archives in the new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York.
This segment aired on June 16, 2018.
Support the news