(Soundbite of music)

BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York this is the Bryant Park Project.

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SGMT: Remembering George Carlin

MARTIN: Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, a little gum on a tree. I'm Rachel Martin

PESCA: And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Monday, June 23rd, 2008. Gum on a tree, is that like water on the knee? Can that be cured with a draining?

MARTIN: No, it can't.

PESCA: No, there's actually some gum on a tree in Philadelphia.

MARTIN: There's gum on - there's a tree in Philly and…

PESCA: So I woke up this morning to find out that one of my idols, one of my heroes had passed away last night.

MARTIN: George Carlin.

PESCA: Actually, it was Staten Island Republican Congressman Frank Powers, he was a - well not a congressman, he was maybe running for Vito Fossella's spot, but no you're right, it was George Carlin I loved. Carlin always broke his act down into three parts. The minutia, just the stuff about his dog Tippy, and little stuff about living. The political stuff, which I felt later in life, got kind of like the Emmy(ph). Look he was 70 years old, he was still doing it. Who else was doing it at 70? But it was better when it was more focused 20 years ago, he got very angry late in life. But the wordplay, the stuff about words was always fantastic. I always think of it whenever, you know, I'm waiting to get on a plane and someone tells me to get on the plane, and George Carlin reverberates in my head, saying, uh-uh, that, I'm getting in the plane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: You could hear a pin drop as he points out, no, you can't, you can hear a pin land, but it's dropping, it's just going through the air. No one could hear that. I love the guy.

MARTIN: See, George Carlin - when I was growing up, George Carlin was the guy that my parents' friend who was a notorious potty mouth...

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: I was told that George Carlin was his favorite comic, and so…

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I wasn't - that was something I was not allowed to listen to.

PESCA: Oh, I remember when I was 10, my dad would basically sanitize the George Carlin routines for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And just explain the funny stuff about words. I didn't know it was dirty until I got older.

MARTIN: He was a very funny man.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: So coming up on the show today, we will learn about some declassified CIA documents, involving a tunnel the agency tried to dig under the Soviet embassy in East Berlin back in the day, a story of intrigue. We'll talk to the guy who wrote the book on the CIA. Well, actually there's more than one book on the CIA, as you might imagine. He wrote…

PESCA: Well, this guy won the Pulitzer.

MARTIN: Yeah, he wrote a really good one. The Book.

PESCA: Yeah, Tim Weiner

MARTIN: Tim Weiner author of "Legacy of Ashes".

PESCA: And we'll talk with the photographer who's gained entry to the KKK, the New Black Panthers - well, he's trying to crack them - the Khmer Rouge and other notoriously, closed subcultures, and we will discuss with him the experience about being let into these groups that don't normally let anyone in.

MARTIN: And that whole gum on a tree thing, really, there is this tree, people stick gum on it. It's become a monument apparently.

PESCA: There is. We're calling it news.

MARTIN: We're going to talk about it as the first in an occasional series on unlikely landmarks in the United States. Plus, we'll do The Ramble of course, and get the day's news headlines, but first…

(Soundbite of George Carlin Act)

Mr. GEORGE CARLIN (Comedian): I am keeping him in my thoughts. Where? Where exactly in your thoughts does he fit? In between my ass hurts in this chair, and let's (bleep) the waitress?

PESCA: That is comedian George Carlin sending up one of the clich?s people say when someone dies, thereby making himself a tough guy to write an obituary for. The comedian died of heart failure yesterday at 71, after being hospitalized for chest pains.

MARTIN: Carlin's name usually gets said after words like influential and groundbreaking, as well subversive and counter-culture figure. When he started out in the 1950s, Carlin was more known for word playing and observational stuff, more than anything. After he was established the anti-establishment stuff took over.

PESCA: Baseball versus football, a place for my stuff, and cats versus dogs, all classics. But the most news worthy of his routines was seven words you can never say on television. That makes it pretty hard for obituary writers, especially those of us in broadcasting. Let's hear what CNN did with that routine.

(Soundbite of CNN)

Mr. CARLIN: Now that was as original as (bleep)

Unidentified Woman: A word for excretion, (bleep). For urination, (bleep). For having sex, (bleep). For breasts, (bleep). And three words still so radioactive, we can't even describe them.

PESCA: Now the last the last word is not that radioactive. Arrested several times for performing it on stage. And when New York radio station WBAI aired the bit unbleeped, without word for urination, the FCC slapped the station with a fine sparking a landmark indecency case that made it the U.S. Supreme court.

MARTIN: The Grammy winning comedian did more than stand up though, showing up on the big screen in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the Prince of Tides, and as a voice in the Pixar flick Cars. He was a host of the first ever Saturday Night Live. He had a short-lived sitcom on Fox and showed up as the narrator of the children show Thomas The Tank Engine, some of his finest work. He also wrote three best-selling books.

PESCA: And among the things he didn't do, you know all those emails you get with commencement speeches that Carlin supposedly delivered and essays he supposedly wrote. You probably will get a bunch of those today. He didn't write any of them. Check his website, he puts it all straight.

MARTIN: Carlin was set to receive the Mark Twain prize for American humor at the Kennedy Center in November. He stayed busy to the end. Carlin work last weekend at the Orleans in Las Vegas, and had dates there through the end of November.

PESCA: We will not say we're keeping him in our thoughts. And we definitely won't be bleeping him in our thoughts. But you know that. Now let's get some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Matt Martinez.


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