What’s next? Doug Stanhope Way?

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on October 27th, 2011

There’s an article behind the NYT paywall that details the mild conflict between folks who want to name a hunk of a street in Morningside Heights after George Carlin and the folks who think it would be a bad thing.

“‘Carlin St.’ Resisted by His Old Church.  Was It Something He Said?” is the headline.  And the answer, of course, is, “Yes.”

We’re not sure why anyone is surprised that the Corpus Christi School (Carlin’s grade school on 121st St.) would oppose such an honor.  And we’re not sure why anyone would see this opposition not as vindictive but as entirely logical and consistent.

Carlin’s 1972 album “Class Clown,” as the parish pastor Rev. Raymond Rafferty says, “made mockery of Corpus Christi parish and its priests.”

So why would Carlin and his admirers expect the nearby church to roll over and except such an honor in their backyard, even four decades later?  Indeed, in light of Carlin’s much later (and much more vitriolic) outright condemnation of the Catholic Church (and of religion in general), why would they expect the church to suddenly look fondly on Carlin?  It might be argued that his initial musings on his youth and his Catholic education were “just jokes,” but much of his later speaking and writing on the subject of religion quite often fell afoul of that definition.

We’re also puzzled as to why anyone would think that Carlin would like the idea.  It’s the second article that the Times has done on the alleged controversy. There seems to be weak sentiments on both sides. The quotes in the article and the comments that follow it aren’t particularly passionate. And the petition itself has garnered only 2,800 signatures as of early last month. Perhaps the comment from “Mark Ryan” of Long Island put it right when he said, “No, Carlin wouldn’t like the idea of a street being named for him, but it’s not for him, it’s for us.”

There is every chance that that, had it been re-named while Carlin was still alive, he might consider it the highlight of his life. But perhaps not. We’re not going to engage in what Hitchens might call “ghoulish ventriloquism” either way.

But we do wonder why someone who engaged in such controversial (and often purposefully contentious) rhetoric would expect his targets to forgive and forget. Wouldn’t such a capitulation signal that Carlin was wrong? Or perhaps ineffective? And were the church to embrace Carlin– and were Carlin to accept their forgiveness– wouldn’t that mean that both parties were mistaken? Why would “one of the most prolific minds of a lifetime” wish to be controversial in life, but not controversial in death?

When we first start doing standup, we do impolite things, we talk about sex and death and we insult the powerful and the powerless. We do so because… we don’t care about the vast majority of social conventions. The minute we say “fuck” onstage, we pretty much kiss a career in politics goodbye. We relegate ourselves to a substrata of society that really can’t (and often shouldn’t) be taken seriously. At least that’s the way it was in the past. We were outlaws, outcasts, folks who, with rare exceptions (Al Franken?), don’t aspire to power or pine for conventional accolades, nor do we care about such niceties as having streets named after us.

Recently, though, we notice a passive-aggressive attitude on behalf of comics who wish to be taken seriously and who wish to simultaneously take a dump on society and be accepted, even venerated, by that same society. They want to have their cake and eat it too. It’s curious and just a little tiny bit embarrassing.

Sure, we want respect. But we don’t want anyone naming a charter school after us.

There are comedians who do. Bill Cosby would probably welcome such an honor. But Cosby has made a living staying on the sweet, straight and narrow side of the street. And, for the most part, his public life has been exemplary.

But it seems incongruous that any edgy/controversial comics would want or need such validation.

And it’s asking too much of the targets of said comics to sit on their hands while their fellow citizens heap praise upon them and advocate for permanent tributes to them.

We’re not particularly interested in defending the church here, but we do concede that they do have a point. And perhaps, as was said above, “it’s for us.” Some of “us” being the folks who would like to honor Carlin and others who merely wish to stick a thumb in the eye of Corpus Christi Church.

We’re guessing that a compromise will be reached. A statue? (Probably not, too costly.) A plaque on the building where Carlin was raised? A historical marker? That sounds more likely.

H/T to FOS Terry Reilly!