Richardson — Growing up is hard. Growing up the only child of an icon is even harder.
In A Carlin Home Companion Growing Up with George, the comedian’s daughter does an admirable job shifting through her own memories to create an enjoyable narrative about what it’s like to grow up as a Hollywood cliché.
Kelly Carlin was born June 15, 1963, the only child of George and Brenda. Throughout the first two decades of her life, she had a front row seat to her father’s rise from small town stand-up to global iconoclast. She also bore the brunt of his drug abuse and her mother’s alcoholism. She traveled with them as her dad became one of the most famous comedians of the last half of the 20th century.
He was instantly recognizable for millions across the globe. But to her, he was just Daddy, and how she longed for time just with her Daddy. But the demands of fame are enormous, especially when you’re considered one of the voices of a generation.
Early in her one-woman show at the Eisemann Center in Richardson on Feb. 24, Kelly explained her parent’s courtship and marriage in June 1961. Kelly came along two years later to cement the three of them as The Three Musketeers, as her inner child told herself. All for one and one for all.
She went all in on her father’s three-part dream to become Danny Kaye: first become a radio DJ, then become a stand-up comedian, and finally become an actor.
From her Upper West Side living room in 1966, she watched him on The Tonight Show and cried because she was afraid he was stuck in the box. Soon they moved to Hollywood as Dad became a bona fide television star and full-fledged addict. Meanwhile Mom struggled with the move and newfound fame, and her alcoholism raged on.
Dad eventually got fired from That Girl for saying shit in an interview. (The incident was a precursor to his legendary bit on the seven words you can never say on television.) Mom wasn’t happy about the job loss. But the public was, as it led George to refine and redefine his comedy. By 1971, George Carlin was a counterculture god.
Kelly recounted how the three of them moved to Venice Beach to be with their tribe, but it’s here George struggled through the depths of addiction. And it as left to an adolescent Kelly to bring him back from ledge time and again while also keeping her mother happy by keeping a glass of Cutty Sark at the ready.
In the summer of 1972, George did a gig at Kent State and took Kelly to the memorial, explaining to the then 9-year-old what happened.
His next gig was at Summerfest in Milwaukee. He didn’t realize his mike was projecting throughout the entire grounds, and when he finished his seven-words bit, he’d upset some Midwestern sensibilities and was going to arrested immediately upon leaving the stage.
Kelly acts out how her mother took a glass of water to George to say “exit stage left,” because she knew he was holding and that would lead to more than a misdemeanor profanity charge. As they exited, Kelly saw the cops coming and wondered if they were going to shoot her Daddy the way they shot those kids at Kent State, and when a she heard a loud pop, her heart sank. Once they all realized it was merely a balloon, they shared a laugh. Dad still got arrested, but at least he didn’t get shot.
Throughout the show, Kelly adeptly relates the behind-the-scenes fire and brimstone that fueled her father’s razor-sharp wit and incredible manipulation of the language.
She intersperses her monologue with classic clips of George, which all received huge laughs from the largely Baby Boomer crowd.
When her parents’ addictions reached their nadir during a Hawaiian vacation, Kelly drafted her own UN peace accord to get them to stop using. They both signed it. Then, they got into another argument and retreated and relapsed.
Kelly stumbled through her own adolescence in a house where “the only rule was that there are no rules.” She acted briefly in one of her dad’s HBO shows. She dropped out of UCLA after a few weeks. She had a cocaine habit of her own, felt like a Hollywood cliché and hated herself for it. So, she got married at 22 … to her coke dealer, who was also a gun runner. They soon divorced.
Kelly eventually reenrolled at UCLA, albeit a 25-year-old freshman with her Mommy by her side because “my agoraphobia was in full effect.” She graduated and went on to receive a master’s in psychology, which she knew her Daddy appreciated because he’d left high school before senior year.
Ultimately, Kelly found herself through the tumult of Growing Up with George to be at peace with him and her mother at the end of their lives. Just before George died in 2008, she revisited the Hawaiian resort where she made her folks sign that UN peace accord. She called her Daddy to explain how she’d closed the decades-old wounds. She finally felt “his equal, his teacher, his soul companion.”
Looks like she finally grew up after all.