The life and comedy of George Carlin: an interview with his daughter, Kelly Carlin

Jon Stewart once said: "There are two things that comedians of all stripes have in common. One: the belief that someone not as funny as they are is doing better than they are; and two: a sincere love and respect for George Carlin."

Four years ago, I realised that George Carlin's would-be 75th birthday was coming up. I was barely starting out in journalism, but thought it would be magnificent to mark the occasion by interviewing his daughter, Kelly Carlin for an audio feature. I contacted her and she said yes immediately. It was such a sincere joy to speak to her. Not just because we were talking about my favourite topic, but because talking to her was my first exciting interview, a real high point before a year of going into hiding as an anonymous jobseeker.

Now, four years later, and with George's would-be 79th approaching, I have better editing equipment and no one telling me to keep it under five minutes – so I decided to revisit this chat.

If you're a Carlin fan, you'll love it. If you're just discovering him, welcome.

Marcus Brigstocke on happiness: "I'm a straight white male. The least I can do is be grateful."

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Brigstocke for a piece in the Guardian about happiness.

As often happens in journalism, he gave great answers far beyond the short quote we needed. It seemed like a waste, so I decided to publish a fuller version of his thoughts on happiness, gratitude and people who say "pin number" ahead of his show, "why the long face?"

Erica: Hi Marcus, how’s it going?

Marcus: Very well thanks. Can’t complain. I mean, I probably will, but I shouldn’t, that’s the point.

Erica: Well I thought that’s what a comedian’s job was, but you’re doing a show about happiness, is that right?

Marcus: Yes, I am. It’s sort of about why on earth happiness eludes me, and people like, me so much of the time. I’m a straight white man, I own a house in one of the best and most exciting cities in the world, I’ve got two happy, healthy kids…and a lot of the time I’m not happy. That makes no sense. My life is entirely charmed. Everything is set up for me to be happy and prosperous, and a lot of the time I’m like, “Urgh, bloody hell”. The source of my unhappiness is so inconsistent. I will go from gnashing my teeth about grammar bullies, who spend their days correcting green grocers on where they put a fucking apostrophe – come on, that green grocer has other concerns, no he didn’t think that 50 pence BELONGS TO APPLES, he just put it in the wrong place, get over yourself – and then I’ll see someone I really don’t like spell something wrong and I have the urge to go, “You can’t even spell you fucking moron”. 

I'm also driven absolutely mental by people who say PIN number instead of PIN. I think, “No, PIN. Personal Identification Number. It’s already got ‘number’ in it. You’re saying Personal Identification Number number, there’s something wrong with you.” That really shouldn’t matter to anyone, should it? 

Erica: It’s like a hierarchy of needs.

Marcus: Totally. But I’m a nice guy! I really am! Then, completely irrationally, if someone hesitates for a split second in front of the tube station to find their travel card I’m like “COME ON!”

Erica: Yes. As a fellow Londoner, I’ve actually invented diseases for those sorts of people.*

*NB here they are: Amorousneeze reflex (with which the sufferer will sneeze uncontrollably whenever anyone they fancy approaches); Legoped (a chronic condition in which the sufferer always feels like they’re stepping on Lego); and Face-AIDS (AIDS of the face. No idea what it is but the cure is head butting Martin Shkreli)

Erica: So what does make you happy? What can you rely on to lift your spirits?

Marcus: Reggae. I would say it almost never fails to make me happy. I have to be really in a dark place to put on a record and not be cheered up by it.

Monkey Man is amazing, and any Bob Marley record.

Snowboarding makes me enormously happy. If I’m honest, my children do what children are wont to do – the day before yesterday, I was so proud: we got out the door for school as the 8am beeps went on the radio. We were halfway to the station when my son said, “Oh, I probably do need my PE kit actually...” and we had to go back for it, and then we ran to the station and my daughter said, “I don’t know where my travel card is." We got up on the platform and watched the train pull out of the station. They probably give me peaks of happiness higher than anything else in my life, but also frustrate me to the point where I could chew my own teeth out of my gums. 

But I often listen to reggae while snowboarding with my children and that, on a sunny day, makes me very happy. If there was some way of having sex – obviously without my children there – on a snowboard whilst listening to reggae, that might be the one.

Erica: That sounds like the base of your next show right there. 

Marcus: (laughs) "Sexy Snowboard Stunting, with Marcus Brigstocke. A new Radio4 special."

Marcus Brigstocke in Love Actually

Marcus Brigstocke in Love Actually

Erica: My Google searches are going to look really bizarre for the next few years, thanks for that.

Marcus: Yes, they are. 

Erica: Without giving away anything in the show, do you come to any conclusions as to why you find yourself so regularly an unhappy, straight, European, white man?

Marcus: You’ll have to forgive me for tooting my own horn, but it’s because I’m capable of empathy. The happiest people are either thick, or incapable of empathy. People who just bumble along, not noticing things or asking any questions, or people who simply don’t care. Our newspapers are largely owned by people who are really good mates with the people they should be holding to account. It makes me so sad and so genuinely angry, and frustrated to the point of not quite knowing what to do with myself. When you follow the news I think it’s very difficult to maintain a state in which you’re not angry and frustrated a lot of the time. And a bit confused as well: how can it be that so many people seem to not mind? It’s quite hard to read the Daily Mail and not know that its millionaire editor has claimed massive grants from the European Union, that he doesn’t really care about anything and that their aim is to keep their money offshore under some of the nastiest people on earth, and is demonstrably mean and unpleasant – people read the Daily Mail like they don’t even mind! In public, on the train! Incredible. And then there’s the simple stuff, like the person at the train who uses a paper ticket instead of an oyster card and you’re like, “Oh for fuck’s sake…” 

Erica: Yeah. Even with everything that's going on in the world, for a moment, that person’s worse than Trump, aren’t they?

Marcus: Oh, way worse! But honestly, the answer to what makes me happy is gratitude. Understanding those things for which I should be grateful, and there are so many. Without revelling in Straight White Man privilege, it’s perfectly reasonable to just be grateful that I am a straight white male. I’m pretty blessed here so the least I can do, without taking away from other people, is enjoy myself. That’s a debt I owe to myself, and everyone else.

Erica: So, “I’ve won first prize, I didn’t earn it, but I should at least be happy that I’ve got it (for now)”?

Marcus: Exactly! I’ve done nothing to earn this prize, but my god, I’m gonna put it on the shelf.

Marcus Brigstocke is performing ‘Why The Long Face?’ at London’s Soho Theatre from 25th April – 7th May