Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RIP, Airman Carlin

Reading obituaries for George Carlin, we were reminded that the comedian got his start in the Air Force.

It was anything but a match made in heaven.

Carlin enlisted at the age of 19, after dropping out of high school in the ninth grade. By various accounts, the joined the service for the education benefits and planned to attend broadcasting school after his hitch was up.

After being trained as a radar technician, Carlin was sent to Barksdale AFB, near Shreveport, Louisiana. Back in those days, Barksdale was part of Strategic Air Command, an organization with an exceptional intolerance for free spirits.

Carlin soon discovered he didn't need a broadcasting diploma and found a part-time job at a local radio station. The future comedian devoted most of his energies to the radio gig, and his military performance--shaky in the best of times--grew steadily worse. Carlin bragged that he was court-martialed three times, but that was likely an exaggeration. In the heyday of SAC, commanders generally followed through with court-martial threats, and Mr. Carlin would have likely wound up in Leavenworth.

Instead, both the airman and the military decided to part company, and Carlin accepted a general discharge in 1957. He was subsequently fired from his first major radio job (in Boston) for "borrowing" the remote truck for a weekend drive to his home in New York.

After leaving Boston, he moved to Fort Worth, found another DJ slot and teamed up with a fellow announcer Jack Burns, who became his first partner. They worked in Los Angeles before parting company in the early 1960s. Within a few months, Carlin hit the big time, with appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show.

George Carlin was a gifted comedian. But as an airman, he was the proverbial round peg in a square hole. It would be interesting to read some of his performance evaluations from Barksdale, to say the least.

1 comment:

halojones-fan said...

That's interesting. Both Carlin and Hunter Thompson started out in the USAF...

I don't know what that means, but it means something