Montreal Just For Laughs 2011: A Carlin Home Companion

Review by Steve Bennett

He’s a tough act to follow, George Carlin. Yet that’s the task his daughter Kelly has chosen – going on the road with a show about her illustrious father, and her sometimes difficult relationship with him

She’s keen to stress that she’s no comic; and this is indeed a one-woman storytelling show, not stand-up. But there’s no denying whose name sell the tickets. The footage she plays of her father’s work, from the career-launching TV appearance that almost caused Johnny Carson to fall off his chair in laughter, to the notorious Seven Dirty Words bit that famously got him arrested, reminds us of what an inspirational talent we lost three years ago.

Carlin’s career, from mainstream success to counter-culture hero, is well-documented elsewhere (though I was surprised to learn how inspired he was by Danny Kaye). So Kelly concerns herself primarily with his domestic life, and what it was like to be a child living through the storm that often surrounded this most contentious of comedians.

It wouldn’t be a showbusiness memoir if there wasn’t drunkenness, drug-taking and regret, and all are present here. However, this portrait is not of a wild life, but a weird one – of a father forever on the road and considered, in some quarters, an enemy of the state. In that, A Carlin Home Companion is revealing of the good times and tensions behind the public image. Kelly is Carlin’s only daughter; her mother, Brenda, was his wife for 36 years until her death of liver cancer in 1997. Her battles with alcohol, as well as her tragic death, are touchingly covered here.

Such an unusual upbringing obviously affected Kelly, and she refers to her own drug use – and truly appalling choice of men – with honesty and light wit. However, when the focus moves off George, the story is intrinsically less fascinating, and it’s hard to muster much interest when she talks about finding her own career as a psychotherapist and a writer/performer – even thought the rare archive footage of her appearing in her father’s obscure sitcom Apartment 2c is a real curio. Some of the psychobabble about ‘higher vibrations’ and suchnot is also a turn-off – especially given Carlin Snr’s disdain for both bullshit euphemism and the idea of God.

But Kelly’s an empathetic presence and a skilled storyteller. At one point she refers to an episode involving George saying: ‘At the end, everyone was more in love with my dad that they had been at the start.’ And that’s very true of this 90-minute reminiscence, too.

Published: 30 Jul 2011

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