Those who trekked to Jamestown, New York earlier this month got an extraordinary surprise- a special one week only preview of some items from the Carlin Archives. The displays were set up as part of the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival with a large exhibition in Jamestown at the historic Jamestown Train Station and a smaller display at the Chautauqua Visitors Center. I was one of the lucky visitors who got to see both and who got to check out the archives with a group that included George’s daughter Kelly, Lewis Black, Alan Zweibel, W. Kamau Bell, historian Kliph Nesteroff, CNN’s Stephen J. Morrison, Carlin’s publicist and two of the archivists who worked on the collection.
It was a tremendous experience to view the collection that included audio that has never been released to the public, a small sampling of a collection of 25,000 artifacts that George saved over his career including handwritten notes, photographs, clippings, sealed cassettes and 8-track tapes, and so much more.
The exhibitions were on display for a limited time and those who didn’t make it to Western New York have already missed their chance to get a close up look. But the Carlin Archives will have a permanent home in Jamestown once the National Comedy Center opens in Summer 2018 (read more about that here). For now, these photos will have to do, but start making plans a year from now to check out the new Center. The Carlin exhibit alone will be worth your while.
The exhibit was named quite simply, what George Carlin called the collection of items he put into storage- Stuff I Saved. The sign uses a reproduction of Carlin’s handwriting and Comedy Center archivist Laura LaPlaca said they chose to exhibit the items using Carlin’s system of organization rather than try to create their own method for this limited time exhibition.
Carlin archivist Logan Heftel began working with Kelly Carlin on the archives to organize and parse through Carlin’s saved audio tapes and notes and helped to create the posthumously released “I Kind of Like it When a Lot of People Die.” Heftel, who knows the collection perhaps better than anyone, save George himself, was on hand to talk about the items on display. Here he was explaining the process of going through the archives to a VIP tour that included W. Kamau Bell, Alan Zweibel, Kelly Carlin, Lewis Black, Kliph Nesteroff and more.
Laura LaPlaca, the Center’s archivist explained about Carlin’s notation system. On display are reproductions of many of Carlin’s notes, as well as originals in Ziploc bags- as they were left by Carlin.
A closer look at Carlin’s notes.
What is more thrilling to a comedy fan than touring a limited run of the Carlin Archives? Having Kelly Carlin in the room, sharing personal stories and bringing each item in the room to life. Here she is telling the story about the night in 1972 that George was arrested at Summerfest in Milwaukee. The exhibition included never before shared audio of that night and Kelly explained that she was there, and nine years old at the time. Carlin had not yet released Class Clown and was performing his relatively unknown Seven Dirty Words bit. The police arrived, and Carlin’s wife learned that they planned to arrest him when he came off the stage. She knew he had marijuana and cocaine in his pockets, so she found an excuse to go on stage and tip him off. Instead of getting offstage quickly, Carlin launched into his dirtiest material and kept going until they cut the mic on him. The audio in the exhibition is the sound of Carlin’s mic slowly cutting out until it just goes dead, after which he exits the stage and quickly starts stashing drugs before getting arrested. Kelly explained that just recently her dad had taken her to see Kent State and explained what had happened there, and she was absolutely terrified that she would never see her dad again.
Here are the stations where you could listen to the Milwaukee Summerfest audio, as well as a video of one of Carlin’s many Carson appearances along with notes about what he planned to talk about during that appearance. Kelly explained that Carlin did not like to talk about his real life on talk shows, so he planned to the letter what he and Carson would discuss. You can follow along with his handwritten notes on the screen.
W. Kamau Bell listening to the Summerfest audio- I think twice.
Kelly Carlin looking at framed items in the archive, arranged as Carlin had arranged them in his storage locker.
An exhibit focused on Carlin’s marriage to Brenda Hosbrook.
Nearby on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institute, a smaller exhibition included this incredible display of the outfit worn by Carlin on the cover of FM & AM. Archivist Laura LaPlaca explained that the shirt was so small they had difficulty getting it on the mannequin. The sealed 8-track tape and cassette tape were preserved by Carlin himself and still wrapped in cellophane. Just out of frame is Carlin’s Grammy he won for FM & AM.