Darrell Vickers – George Carlin: Part One – He Hired Who?

     In 1973, George Carlin was an absolute filthy sensation. “FM & AM”, “Class Clown” and “Occupation: Foole” had taken an easily scandalized world by storm. Who knew mentioning “cocksucker, motherfucker and tits” (which sounds like Jimmy Swaggart’s room service order at a Baptist convention) could be so uproarious? I can recall precisely where I was the first time I laid my tender ears upon “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” A shindig was being thrown for the young and swingin’ volunteers of the local, government-mandated Cable Access station. We, the young and unpaid, sat around that north Oshawa living room in stitches while Bill Ridell, the government-mandated station manager, mimed along with the shockingly brilliant piece.

    

Besides strange older men’s living rooms, George also made frequent appearances on ‘70s television staples such as “Flip Wilson” and “The Tonight Show.” His masterful and mirthful manipulation of the English language was revelatory to me. Plus, he talked about tits. What’s not to like?

     I nostalgically recall tooling around the pockmarked and garbage-strewn streets of Oshawa in a crazy friend’s souped-up Chevy Nova in the summer of ‘75.

Not exactly a Bryan Adams song, but at least it wasn’t Bowmanville! There was a Goodwill 8-track player home-wired into the dash of the car and Craig had amassed a grand total of three tapes to shove into it. One of his highly focused collection was “FM & AM.” No matter how many times we heard that sucker – and George got featured a ton on that thunderously lo-fi machine – it never failed to amuse.

In short, George Carlin was a true genius and an oratory idol in the morning of my days.

     Fast Forward Eight Years:

Todd Thicke

By 1983, I had taken the giant leap from being a very unhappy high school student at the McLaughlin Vocational Institute to an extremely unhappy researcher on “Thicke of the Night.” I have already chronicled many of the innumerable dark and stormy times on that shipwreck of a show. There were, however, a few bright spots among the vast stretches of toxic and corrosive impenetrable black. One was getting to work with and know Todd Thicke – who is still a good friend after 40 lumpy-bumpy years.

The second was manning the beleaguered research trenches alongside Patrick Carlin. Pat is George Carlin’s older brother and one of the funniest humans I have ever known.

The Brothers Carlin

While George was legendarily comedic on paper and in a formal setting, Patrick could make you spit out your uvula over lunch. There were many intolerable times on that televisual Titanic when his colorful and hilariously woven yarns were all that kept me from reaching for John Eric Hexum’s temple-massager. And Pat had knee-slapping, drink-spewing stories for days. His first court martial in the army (of two) was for inciting federal troops to riot. He later sold used cars in L.A., in the hard-boozin’ sixties. He’d been a beach bum in Trinidad. He was hired as a chef at a posh eastern private school. He worked the line in a textile factory and drove a stretch limo in Hollywood. Aside from door-to-door bible sales and mud wrestling at the Tropicana, Pat had pretty well covered the workplace waterfront.

Patrick Carlin

Everyone on “Thicke of the Night” loved Patrick. He possessed a magical, irreplicable way with people and Republicans. Pat would blurt out the bluest, most inappropriate things in front of the starchiest of women – things that, if I said them, I’d be up on charges or slapped into another dimension – and they would invariably just laugh along. “Oh Pat!”

Pat’s Sixth Sense:

Inexplicably, Muhammad Ali agreed to make an appearance on “Thicke of the Night.” This was just before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. There was definitely something wrong with him, but the doctors (or perhaps just the public) hadn’t figured out what it was. I don’t know whether he was less than thrilled about being a guest on our Top of the Flops fiasco or perhaps he was just in a random foul mood but an ominous edict came down from on high.

“Don’t anybody even attempt to talk to Mr. Ali!”

The executive producers had also received an ominous don’t-fuck-with-me glare from The Great One. Just before our badly listing show got underway, I parked myself in the extended greenroom just behind the set. Mr. Peevy Pugilist was sitting about 10 to 12 feet from me with a boxing ring of silence surrounding him. At some point, Pat entered the backstage area. He trotted straight over to Muhammad and whispered into his ear, “You son of a bitch, I lost 25 bucks because of you on that Sonny Liston fight.” Muhammad started laughing and they chatted for about five minutes and then Carlin patted the former Mr. Clay on the shoulder and ambled off. Simply amazing. He had a baffling gift for intuiting just what to say.

And a gift for intuiting just what to inhale.

Day or long, long night, Pat shone a happy joy light into the darkest pits of hell from where we did dwell. He was indefatigably cheerful. Of course, smoking spliffs the size of hay bales in the KTTV parking lot innumerable times a day did help to leaven his mood and Patrick would enthusiastically hoover those doobs down to the very last one-and-a-half atoms of glowing paper. At almost any given moment, Pat’s brain was as fried as a Denny’s Super Slam Breakfast but it in no way impaired his ability to function. This was indeed fortunate because Mr. Carlin motored into the studio from Lake Sherwood each morning.

It was a suicidally long drive but he would generously zip off the moribund freeway every morning to pick Andrew and me up at our hovel on Burbank Blvd. Once we had found purchase inside his aged Subaru, it took a goodly number of blocks to adjust to the overwhelming smell of skunk weed impregnating every pore of the vehicle. It was like being crammed into a phone booth with Bob Marley.

While Pat on pot was the jolliest person alive, you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. He had a nose that bespoke a history of closing-time altercations during his drinking days. As “Thicke of the Night” began to wither on the vine, the show started to put the squeeze on Patrick’s salary. Within a few weeks it had been squeezed tighter than Robert Ackley’s zits. Instead of a weekly wage, he was now only being paid to make the odd appearance on the show as a guest. Feeling betrayed – Patrick had worked on Epais de la Nuit longer than anyone – he was more than inclined to drive his Love Truck through the window of Alan’s office to communicate his Vesuvian level of displeasure. Luckily, Andrew and I always found ourselves in favor with the world’s oldest hippie.

Once Upon a Time:

In between exhaling colossal clouds of Maui Wowie – Patrick had concocted an idea for a trailblazing mini-series called “The Stoneingtons.” It centered around a bizarre television station that was controlled by a large, alien pot plant. A short while after Andrew and I moronically quit “Thicke of the Night,” Pat convinced his brother to put some money up for a pilot script and hired us to write it. I’m sure we still have a copy or two of this decidedly odd two-hour pilot.

“The Stoneingtons” was a fun time and a desperately needed payday but what happened next was something out of a fairy tale. A year or two before we moved down to L.A., Andrew and I penned a spec sitcom pilot entitled “Diplomatic Immunity.” It had a Fawlty Towers vibe to it. Diplomats from a very poor nation turn their embassy into a hotel so they can afford to keep it open and not have to return home to their horrible, war-torn country. Unbeknownst to Andrew and I, Pat handed the script to George who then decided to give it a quick flip-thru on the plane flight to an appearance.

There’s a Prince at the Door Holding a Slipper:

The dollar-store phone rang in our Van Nuys apartment. Luckily, Andrew managed to answer it before the cockroaches did because George Carlin was calling from that very same plane! He’d just finished reading our pilot and loved it. Our comedy hero was even quoting some of his favorite lines from the script to Andrew. It turns out he was working on a sitcom pilot of his own for HBO at that very moment. He’d hired Pat McCormick to help him with it but the project just wasn’t coming together. While the legendary Tonight Show writer was a master of one-liners from outer space and beyond, structure and plot cohesiveness were not the nails he could hang his false teeth on. George wanted to hire Andrew and myself to take the bits he’d already come up with and fashion a script around them. Unbelievably, Nicholls & Vickers were the two writers, out of everyone in Hollywood, that The George Carlin had chosen to help him work on his very first HBO pilot. 

MOTHERFUCKER!!! … not to mention “cocksucker and tits.”

Next week, we get to work with one of the greatest comedians in history, someone famous accidentally almost kills themselves with a door and Andrew and I have a very, very difficult decision to make.  

=DV=

DBAWIS_Button

Darrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to his daily mailing list, just write him at Radiovickers1@gmail.com

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