Fans of legendary comedian George Carlin who are interested in the mayhem that went on behind-the-scenes during his most prolific years can now get an up-close and personal view. Carlin’s only child, his daughter Kelly, has written a memoir, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing up with George. It’s an exquisitely written “warts and all” look at life at home with George, his wife Brenda and Kelly — the self-proclaimed “Three Musketeers” — during the best and worst of times.
Kelly’s account of “life with George” holds nothing back. She recounts her family’s trouble with alcoholism, unimaginable cocaine use and addiction, a devastating million-dollar debt to the IRS and the constant arguments to which Kelly played referee. But at the core of this heartbreaking and hilarious memoir is Kelly’s own story as she struggles to find her true self amid the madness. CityBeat recently caught up with Kelly to discuss the genesis of this tender memoir.
CityBeat: How did this book begin to take shape?
Kelly Carlin: I started having the desire to tell my story in 1999 after my mother had died, and I wrote a solo show called Driven to Distraction. It was about how I had been distracted through my parents’ own chaos when I was a child and then choosing my crazy ways in my early years as an adult. But it made my dad uncomfortable, so I put it on the shelf. When I started to outline a memoir in 2006, my dad was still uncomfortable and I knew I needed to put it on the shelf until that time when he was no longer here. After he died, I continued to develop my one-woman show, which gave me a chance to really know my life story at a much deeper level.
CB: You have a great memory of dates, which disproves the notion that if you do a lot of drugs like you did during your wild years, you lose your memory.
KC: Well, I’ve really had to work at it. Part of it was to reconstruct my life. To ask myself, “What did happen? How did I get here? How did I get away from the bad things? How did I pick up the things that were healthy for me and reconnect with them?” That’s been a big part of why I even tackled this project.
CB: It’s a beautifully written book in how the writing flows.
KC: Thank you. I really loved writing it. That’s where I really found my joy in wordsmithing. I really felt connected to my father while I was writing it in the sense that I was really working my craft just like he worked his.
CB: From an early age you had to be the voice of sanity between your parents. Is that still a source of resentment, or have you already worked through that?
KC: I’ve worked through it all — or 99 percent of it. For years I had a lot of issues to work through, and a lot of my difficulty in my relationship with my parents was around feeling like I missed out on part of my childhood. And there were many years where I couldn’t even articulate that. And my work has created a lot of positive things in my personality, like learning to have some healthy selfishness.
CB: You’ve always had an affinity for performance, but it seems like your father was careful about keeping you from trying to follow in his footsteps.
KC: I didn’t have a lot of conversations with my dad about performing. But he was worried that I was going to go into stand-up. So we had a very specific conversation about that, which I, being the insecure person I am, took to mean he doesn’t think I’m a very good comic. But he was just very worried about me entering the entertainment business, which is ruthless.
CB: How has writing this book affected you?
KC: I feel like it has allowed me to move on from my story and my past and it has given me confidence as a writer. It’s also allowed me to share parts of my dad with his fans that they wouldn’t get a chance to know any other way. And I think it’s a bit of closure for his fans.
Kelly Carlin’s memoir, A CARLIN HOME COMPANION: GROWING UP WITH GEORGE, is now available in bookstores.