Life presents challenges and opportunities. Being the only child of George Carlin gives you plenty of both. Kelly Carlin rode the waves of a tumultuous childhood with laissez-faire oversight, rolling into a misbegotten marriage to a cocaine dealer at age 18 because hey, that might shock dad. It didn’t. But it did become a rollicking good one-woman show, Driven to Distraction, which details her struggles with substance abuse and the death of her mother, Brenda Hosbrook, on Mother’s Day from liver cancer at age 61.
This time around, Kelly Carlin is presenting A Carlin Home Companion: Life, Love and Laughter with George, about more than four decades of life with her father George. The mélange of stories, observations, show clips and home photos details how easy it was to be swept up into his life of performance; her devastation from his death of heart failure in 2008; and the emergence of her own voice on stage.
A Carlin Home Companion is coming for one night only (April 18) to the Dupree Theater of the Irving Arts Center. It’s a benefit for the Winfree Schools Foundation, where Kelly’s old friend Theresa McKeown is a board member. Tickets for $35 include pre-show reception at 6:30 p.m.; $65 VIP tickets include post-show private reception with Kelly Carlin and a copy of Last Words by George Carlin and Tony Hendra.
To Keep the Carlin Flame Burning
A Carlin Home Companion came about through a lark. Gruff comedian Lewis Black felt the loss of George, his friend and mentor, deeply. He was one of many comedians who reached out to Kelly after George’s passing. A couple of years ago, Black asked Kelly to perform on a Lewis Black Comedy Cruise, a week on the high seas with a few hundred Black fans, most of whom also adored George. Black suggested she simply share stories of growing up with one of the world’s most famous comedians. “People kept telling me what a pleasure it was to get to know him in a different way,” said Kelly, and A Carlin Home Companion was born.
“The thing that got me through the couple years after my dad died was the love and adoration of his fans,” shared Kelly, “literally lifting me up through emails and social media, sending me their love and appreciation of him. It helped me so much through my grief and I wanted to give something back to them. But it’s also been a beautiful journey for me to be able to find my own place and voice on stage, learning to feel comfortable in a place I feel I was born to be.“
Expect a diverse crowd for the show. “My dad’s audience always ranged from 12 years old to 90, there were always younger generations coming up,” said Kelly. There will be some from the Occupy movement, who consider George their patron saint. Because of the Internet, George Carlin fandom is worldwide, and not surprisingly he’s a big favorite in repressive Middle Eastern countries.
Of the show and her approach as a storyteller, Kelly said, “They get to know my dad in all his different layers.” Observers like television producer Ross Fineman concurred: "Kelly Carlin's highly entertaining one-woman-show is pure joy for fans of George Carlin's and comedy in general. Deftly intertwining her life with that of her father's, she creates a truly insider look at the man she calls dad, and we call the father of modern comedy. To see the joy, the challenges and the love that she has experienced makes us feel up close and personal to the man himself."
Another Carlin Generation
From the outpouring of comedian sentiment following her father’s passage, Kelly found her niche as an explorer of the comedian psyche. She has served as producer on some episodes of The Green Room helmed by Paul Provenza, who also directed A Carlin Home Companion. She hosts the monthly in-depth comedian conversation podcast The Kelly Carlin Show on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy channel.
The Kelly Carlin Show kickoff featured Robin Williams. “I have a unique privilege and honor to have an open door with most comedians because of my dad,” related Kelly. “Many of them became comedians because of my dad or were influenced or inspired by him in some way. And they know I give good conversation.”
Though there are dozens of comedy talk podcasts and shows, The Kelly Carlin Show stands out for its depth, enhanced by Kelly’s masters degree in psychology with a Jungian emphasis. “Seeing life through a sacred lens is important to me and Jungian psychology honors that. I try to hold our story and the sacred aspects of our journey together and highlight that for the audience,” said Kelly. “I want to go to deep, interesting places with them. I’m not a fellow comic like Mark Maron, I don’t have 20 years history with them.”
However, Kelly’s tour de force podcast is Waking Up From the American Dream, airing weekly on SModcast Internet Radio. Through interviews and her own essays, she examines concepts and topics including reinvention and perfectionism, insanity and political activism, and even various theories of the divine. Guests have included authors, filmmakers, counselors, scientists and creative types of all sorts. Threaded through the hour are songs, including some by Dallas-based singer-songwriter Cary Cooper.
All and all, through the podcasts and performances, it may be true as Kelly said, “Another generation of Carlin is coming forward.”