George Carlin Honored With Mark Twain Prize

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The late comedian George Carlin was honored Monday night with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Carlin is famous for those "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV." The Mark Twain Prize was the only comedy award Carlin believed was a legitimate comedy prize.


Some of America's funniest people gathered in Washington, D.C., last night for an event that had a touch of sadness. They were at the Kennedy Center to honor comedian George Carlin with this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor five months after he died at the age of 71. NPR's David Nogueras reports.

DAVID NOGUERAS: Lily Tomlin, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart among others were on hand to honor their friend George Carlin. The night was not just a celebration of Carlin, but a celebration of his ironic use of language. Here's comedian Joan Rivers.

Ms. JOAN RIVERS (Comedian): They asked me to say a couple of words about George, and I kept thinking that is so unfair. You cannot sum George Carlin up in two words. Give me at least seven.

NOGUERAS: Carlin was perhaps best known for the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV," and more than a few of the words said last night will likely have to be bleeped when the special airs at a future date on PBS. But many of the clips of Carlin that were played throughout the evening showcased not only his ability to be coarse or vulgar, but also his passion for language and his insights into everyday life.

(Soundbite of vintage recording)

Mr. GEORGE CARLIN (Comedian): Have you ever been sitting in a railroad train in a station and there's another train sitting right next to you, and one of them starts to move, and you can't tell which one it is?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARLIN: Did you ever try to pick up a suitcase you thought was full, but it wasn't? And you go phwoo(ph). And for just a split-second, you feel really strong.

NOGUERAS: Many presenters told stories of how Carlin had influenced their careers. And in the case of Garry Shandling, how Carlin helped launched it. Shandling recounted how as a teenager, he drove two hours to Phoenix to ask Carlin to listen to some of his first jokes.

Mr. GARRY SHANDLING (Comedian): He gives me notes for 20 minutes. I'm a kid - I'm a kid from Tucson, Arizona. And George Carlin sits down and gives me notes. You understand that that changes your life.

NOGUERAS: "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart took his own lessons from Carlin. To respect comedy, he said, you have to work hard at it.

Mr. JON STEWART (Comedian): And he punched the clock for comedy. And I mean, the record shows a man 45 years in comedy and 20 - I mean, it's crazy. The most prolific comedian ever.

NOGUERAS: George Carlin learned he would receive the Twain Prize this past June, just days before he died of heart failure. David Nogueras, NPR News, Washington.

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