10 Surprising Facts About George Carlin

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

George Carlin did more than make people laugh—he made them think. Over the course of his long and storied career, the legendary comedian released more than 20 albums, recorded more than a dozen HBO comedy specials, and challenged both conventional American thinking and governmental procedure. From being described as a "significant social satirist" in a Supreme Court ruling regarding indecency to serving as the conductor in Shining Time Station, Carlin touched the lives of generations of fans. Here are some facts about the comedian/actor/author in honor of what would have been his 80th birthday.

1. HE INHERITED HIS LOVE OF LANGUAGE.

George's father, Patrick, was an advertising manager for the New York newspaper The Sun. He won a nationwide Dale Carnegie public speaking contest in 1935 with his speech "The Power of Mental Demand." "He had a real line of sh*t, boy," Carlin said of his father. "He could talk your donkey's ear off."

Carlin's grandfather, a New York City police officer, wrote out Shakespeare's tragedies in longhand for fun.

2. GROWING UP, HE WANTED TO BE LIKE DANNY KAYE.

"Danny Kaye was my childhood dream when I was 10, 11," Carlin said of the actor/singer/dancer/physical comedian/musician. "I kind of looked at that and thought, 'Gee, I can do that ... He makes funny faces, he talks in funny accents and he can do very, very intricate vocal pieces."'

3. HE WENT TO THE SAME HIGH SCHOOL AS MARTIN SCORSESE, REGIS PHILBIN, AND DON DELILLO.

Unlike Regis Philbin, Martin Scorsese, and Don DeLillo, Carlin didn't graduate from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx—because he was expelled.

In an interview with Playboy, Carlin admitted that he was failing subjects and running away from home for days at a time while he attended Hayes. His scholastic career included stealing money from the visiting team's locker room during a basketball game, and getting caught telling kids on the playground he had heroin. In 1983, Carlin performed at a Hayes school fundraiser in honor of Msgr. Stanislaus P. Jablonski—the very man who threw him out. Despite the fears of some in the alumni association, Carlin kept his act clean, and Jablonski enjoyed the tribute. Jablonski at one point read old detention slips he had issued Carlin. One read, "He thinks he's a comedian."

4. HE WAS COURT-MARTIALED (MORE THAN ONCE) IN THE AIR FORCE.

Carlin worked as a radar technician on B-47s at Louisiana's Barksdale Air Force Base. He smoked pot he had mailed to him from New York on the base; the others did not recognize the smell. He was court-martialed once after celebrating the Brooklyn Dodgers winning the 1955 World Series by downing cooking wine and telling off his tech sergeant. He was court-martialed again after falling asleep during a simulated combat drill.

5. HE HAD A LIFELONG INTEREST IN CURSE WORDS.

He wrote down the "most colorful" profanities he heard in his neighborhood and put them in his pocket. When he was 13, his mother found them in the wallet. Carlin claimed he overheard her saying to his uncle that she believed George needed a psychiatrist.

6. HIS ARREST OVER SAYING THE SEVEN DIRTY WORDS WAS ALMOST A LOT WORSE.

Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1972 for obscenity after giving a stand-up performance at Summerfest. What the six cops didn't realize was that Carlin had cocaine in his pocket moments before they got to him.

During the show, Carlin's wife came up on stage to bring him a pitcher of water, and to inform him that he should go offstage to the right, because police were waiting on the left. When he finished his performance, he exited, stage right, and handed the drugs off to a band.

7. HE WAS THE FIRST-EVER HOST OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, BUT DIDN'T REMEMBER THE EXPERIENCE.

He was "loaded on cocaine all week long" leading up to October 11, 1975, when he performed stand-up and introduced the inaugural episode's musical guests, Billy Preston and Janis Ian. Carlin and the longtime SNL director Dave Wilson had gone to summer camp together as kids. For the Saturday night talent shows, a young George would do monologues. After years of Wilson winning the contests, Carlin finally beat him. (George eventually got kicked out of camp for stealing film from the owner's camera to take his own photographs.) When Lorne Michaels interviewed Carlin about performing the hosting duties, he said, "Well, I know the director."

Carlin was also the first-ever host of Fridays (1980-1982), ABC's attempted version of SNL.

8. HIS SECOND OF THREE HEART ATTACKS OCCURRED DURING A BASEBALL GAME.

Carlin was taking in a New York Mets/Los Angeles Dodgers contest at Dodger Stadium with his agent in May 1982—Carlin was a Mets fan since the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to L.A.—when he had his second heart attack. After realizing the park's first aid station was, as daughter Kelly Carlin wrote, "nothing more than a glorified place to get a Band-Aid," their limo driver booked it to St. John's Hospital. George didn't believe it was as serious as a heart attack, but it in fact was an almost full blockage of the right descending artery. The doctors used an experimental anticoagulant, Streptokinase; they had gotten it that week. It did its job of unclotting.

9. HE LIED TO KIDS WHO RECOGNIZED HIM AS MR. CONDUCTOR.

A perk to Carlin taking the role of Mr. Conductor in Shining Time Station in the first place was that he didn't have to deal with other actors, as it was all green-screened. But he would inadvertently traumatize children, who spotted him at airports—out of uniform and much bigger than depicted on TV. "I'm not on the island of Sodor, I'm not working today," he would gently tell them. "But I am Mr. Conductor." This didn't lessen the kids' confusion.

10. THE IRS HELPED HIM BECOME A BETTER COMIC.

About the Internal Revenue Service taking a large percentage of his money after years of owing taxes, Carlin saw the bright side of it all:

"It made me a way better comedian, because I had to stay out on the road, and I couldn’t pursue a movie career—which would have gone nowhere—and I became a really good comic and writer eventually, saving all my files and thoughts and things. I had to be prepared for that, because HBO was coming along, and about every two years—at my choice—I had to have another hour ready. So my having to stay on the road turned me into a g**damn good comedian. So there’s a bright part of everything."

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

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