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TCA Press Tour: It's all about George Carlin

January 7, 2009 |  3:14 pm

Ten days before comic George Carlin passed away in June, he learned that he was the 2008 recipient of the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For Humor.

Carlin was not the kind of artist who cared about awards, according to his daughter, Kelly Carlin, who appeared at a PBS panel on Wednesday at the Universal Hilton. But this one -- presented to her in November by leading entertainers such as Joan Rivers, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart -- was different. "He didn’t take awards very seriously," she said. "He saw the game of it all. But there was something about this prize that meant something to him. He did call me to tell me about it and he was very excited. In the last five years, he had started to take in that he was the elder statesman of these people. He was really getting it. I don't know how he would have taken it in to be there. I would love to know. But we took it in with great pride."

Kelly Carlin described the event, which was held in Washington, D.C., as "heart-breaking and spectacular" at the same time. "The love that was in the room, especially coming from the stage, and the audience certainly," she said. "My whole life I’ve felt the love from the audience. To listen to these stand-up comedians talk about my father and really mean it, it was a beautiful experience."

Comics Richard Belzer and Lewis Black, who also participated in the televised event, which will air on Feb. 4, attended the panel and told stories of their most significant memories of Carlin. Belzer recalled that, in the '70s, when he had been banned from appearing on the "Tonight Show" because of his use of dirty words and his controversial act, Carlin invited him on when he guest-hosted, even though producers tried to stop him. "It legitimized me," he said. "...George wasn't threatened by talent or by other people. It's a rare thing in show business. He was an incredibly unselfish guy."

Black recalled a phone message he received from Carlin that pushed him to pursue his career when he was just known as a club comic. "His first line in that call was 'First, let me say there’s nothing I can do for your career,' " Black said. "I thought that was great."

Kelly Carlin is working on a book about her father's life and their relationship. Growing up in the '60s and '70s with her counter-culture comic of a father, she said, was as a "roller coaster ride filled with lots of love, lots of laughter, and lots of insanity." One thing that was important for him to impart as a father, she said, was that she should treat everyone as equals. Her father deserved the Mark Twain prize because he had some important things in common with the noted author, she said. "Mark Twain was ahead of his time. He used language in a way to break barriers. And he got in trouble for it. I think there was a lot of parallel and connection...and a lot of dancing between the two of them."

--Maria Elena Fernandez