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Last Words: A Memoir Hardcover – November 10, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 273 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The Washington Post

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by by Jeff Nussbaum George Carlin didn't want to write an autobiography in the classic sense. In his mind, only "pinheaded criminal business [leaders] and politicians" wrote autobiographies. The word he settled on to describe "Last Words" was "sortabiography." A comedian's sortabiography. But this description has it exactly backward. "Last Words" is indeed an autobiography -- and quite a good one -- by a man who, as he takes us through his life, reveals himself to be a sortacomedian. Yes, his albums were sold in record stores under the comedy heading, but what "Last Words" ultimately reveals is how Carlin became a political protester, slam poet, cynic, polemicist and performance artist whose messages were delivered under the veneer of humor. Although Carlin made more than 20 albums, 14 HBO specials and more than a hundred appearances on "The Tonight Show," wrote three best-selling books and provided the catalyzing case for a major Supreme Court decision, he tells us that his true dream was to perform a one-man show on Broadway. That this dream was never fulfilled suffuses a powerful, personal, introspective story with real poignancy. But, of course, that's not why you pick up a book by George Carlin. You want to hear about the seven words you can't (or couldn't) say on television. If you're of a certain age, you want to understand how Al Sleet, the Hippy-Dippy weatherman, was born. (If you were to guess that it was during a marijuana-induced haze, you'd pretty much nail it.) You want to hear -- one last time -- the "brain droppings" of a man who found the line between what was sacred and what could be profaned by repeatedly stepping over it. And in this, from the very beginning, he doesn't disappoint. The book begins with a funny and graphic description of his own conception, near-termination and ultimate birth. But then something slightly unexpected happens. He spends the first third of the book telling a beautiful, powerful story of growing up Irish in Harlem, the product of a "lace curtain Irish" mother, who wanted nothing more than for her son to be successful and refined, and an abusive "shanty" Irish father. We see his mother indoctrinate him with a love of words and the streets indoctrinate him with the voices and personalities that came to populate his later work. We see him become the class clown. But we also see something else, and it's best described by a trip he takes to Times Square where the Army recruiting office had a display of military hardware -- including a 500-pound bomb called "The Blockbuster." Seeing that others had scratched their names into the bomb's casing, Carlin does the same, saying, "Everyone should try to scratch their names on the bomb of life." The story of Carlin's service and ultimate discharge from the Air Force rivals Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." After Carlin managed to rack up two court-martials and five other disciplinary offenses, "basically they said: 'You don't mention you were here and we won't either.' " What's interesting is how Carlin's comedy branched in two directions, into what he called his "micro world material" and his "macro world material." It's easy to forget that his micro world material, which always seemed a little derivative to me and which Carlin admits became even more so as he sank deeper into addiction, actually launched into the mainstream the observational humor we now know and love and pay Jerry Seinfeld millions of dollars to perform. As for the macro world material, one of the joys of the book is watching it develop over time, harden after the election of Ronald Reagan and then ultimately find its outlet in the outraged persona most of us identify with Carlin. The book loses steam when Carlin begins to talk about his second marriage and his PBS show, "Shining Time Station." It hits a final note of either genius or madness, depending on how you read it, when he launches into rants such as, "I no longer identify with my species." Still, you find yourself forgiving Carlin his excesses -- as he knew you would. You even find yourself enjoying them. In 1970, Carlin's mother wrote him a letter. At the time, he was a comedian of some renown, but for repeated attempts at career suicide as much as anything else. She wrote, "You will someday be a Beckett or a Joyce or maybe a Bernard Shaw. You seem to have their kind of disturbance . . . Some day you will release what you have down inside of you and it will be listened to and heard." Carlin blithely dismissed her letter, suggesting that his mother (like himself at the time) was "dropping a little acid." But though perhaps not a Beckett, Carlin was indeed heard. In "Last Words," it's nice to hear him one final time. bookworld@washpost.com
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

From Publishers Weekly

For more than a decade before his 2008 death, groundbreaking stand-up comedian Carlin had been working on his autobiography with writer Hendra (Father Joe), who finished it by distilling hours of conversations with the irascible social commentator. Armed with an eye for detail and a seemingly photographic memory, Carlin retraces his life in full, chronicling petty crimes and stolen kisses, escalating drug problems and the death of his wife with unflinching honesty. He applies that same precision to the mechanics of comedy, giving would-be comics a veteran's insight into the dynamics of crowds, the structure of a performance and the importance (or unimportance) of the social and political landscape. Tracing his evolution as a comedian from the first time he made his mother laugh to performing for an empty room in Baltimore to the series of HBO specials he made over the course of his career, Carlin peppers his narrative with the routines that have made him famous (though this is no gagfest, a la Brain Droppings, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, etc.). Throughout, Carlin comes off as a smart, humble everyman with a strong distaste for hypocrisy in all its forms; fans may be surprised at his discipline and drive, and anyone interested in comedy should find this autobio as illuminating as it is funny.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439172951
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439172957
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (273 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Okay, so I AM biased. BUT! I even learned things about my dad that I didn't know. So imagine, if you are a fan, how fun it will be for you. My dad kept his inner life pretty close to his chest, and in this book he shows his hand fully.

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Format: Hardcover
This long overdue posthumously released biography of comic genius George Carlin provides fans detailed personal information in a no holds barred format. Though there are bits and pieces of his famed skits... that is not the reason you should buy this book. There are innumerable videos... DVD's and albums available that contain unlimited sketches. What the reader learns within these pages... is what George eventually... with a lot of self-searching... learned about himself over a lifetime. Carlin had to eventually come to grips with what he felt and believed as a person... through an introspective journey... that encompassed painful truths of his parental heritage... childhood environs... religious culture and beliefs... along with alcohol and drug abuse.

The fact that George was developing this book for almost fifteen years is explained in an enlightening introduction by his friend Tony Hendra. A summary of why this book took so long to be born... could probably be best described by a John Lennon lyric: "LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS WHILE YOU'RE BUSY MAKING OTHER PLANS." Though George may have been a "Clown-Prince" on stage... his family's foundation was less than regal. His Father was an alcoholic bully... who beat George's beloved older brother... and self-proclaimed "best pal" Patrick from the time he was small... thus leading to the family's separation. In one chilling scene Carlin's Mother is sitting in a Doctor's office... mere minutes away from aborting George. "MY MOTHER'S PRIMARY MOTIVE IN LEAVING MY FATHER WAS TO PROTECT ME FROM THE BEATINGS HE GAVE LITTLE PATRICK." Patrick was a role model for George... and not always in the best of lights. As an example when George followed Patrick into the Air Force the Carlin boys accrued five court- martial's between them.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book yesterday and finished it this morning. It is a revelatory read, as George's previous three books are along the lines of his standup material, whereas this book is a narrative. We finally get a full three-hundred page book worth of the "real George" that we saw glimpses of throughout the years in his interviews and less guarded moments.

As a lifelong fan of Carlin, I could never understand why there weren't a ton of biographies written about him. There are lots of revelatory moments in the book; the amount of catastrophe that followed Mr. Carlin around in the 70s and 80s is truly staggering. However, George never displays a victim mentality; he never blames others for his problems, and his attitude as the narrator is charitable towards the individuals he knew.

It is made clear how easy it would have been for George to take the path of least resistance at his turning point in the early 1980s, struggling with a cocaine problem and owing massive amounts of back taxes. It is also made clear just how much of a lifesaver his 1980s business manager, Jerry Hamza, was for George.

Carlin details his business problems as well as all of his heart problems and heart surgeries, and he dives headlong into the mess of the 1970s and talks about his years of drug abuse very candidly, as well as his marriage to Brenda Carlin (née Hosbrook) and his wonderful daughter Kelly. He talks candidly about both his and his wife's near-death experiences in the 1970s and 1980s, and her death in 1998 from liver cancer.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I have just finished reading the Kindle edition of "Last Words" and it's brilliant and funny and well worth reading. However, I was struck by how awful the copy editing and production is. The book is so full of typos it's like reading a blog or something. Words are run together, and many proper names are uncapitalized. The title of chapter 18 is written as "BWING, DOING, GETTING", for instance (it's correctly written as "BEING", not "BWING", in the TOC). The photo at the head of Chapter 15, identified as "George and Patrick Carlin", is in fact a photo of Carlin performing, repeated from the previous chapter. And so on. Really, this is shockingly bad. I hope the print edition is better.

Still, great book!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Most comedians have a short shelf life. They blaze onto the scene at the right time, and for a while they're molten, seeming to capture the zeitgeist. They say what people want to hear, perhaps validate some prejudices, and then they fade from the scene. Carlin continues to burn bright, even now, because he captured something lasting and true while still managing to be a rebel - a nearly impossible task. He was an intelligent man, perhaps a genius, and spoke to other thinking people. He pointed out hypocrisy, he punctured some sacred cows, and he made us give thought to the words we take for granted and the words we assign too much power.

Here now is his life in his words. The mother who taught him the power of language, the father who wasn't present but from whom he inherited an ability to see through the bull, his upbringing in New York, his time in the military, his family, his early career, and how he transitioned into the iconic performer we think of when we hear his name.

Last Words is an engrossing read for Carlin fans, people who are interested in one of the major voices of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Some events, some people, are unimaginable to imagine never having existed, and some of Carlin's thoughts are deeply rooted in our iconography. The book carries on in the tradition of making us think, even if there's not always agreement. We are reminded, reading this, that he will be a tough act to follow, but we desperately need people to keep trying.

This is a thoughtful book, but Carlin's wit is still very much on display. In the midst of a poignant anecdote he would land a great line, and I would find myself laughing when a moment before I was in complete solidarity with him over whatever sadness he was sharing.
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