We know from Brain Droppings and other works, on both the page and the stage, what went on inside George Carlin’s head, but here we explore the acerbic comedian’s heart. Collected by Sally Wade, who lived with him for 10 years until his death in June 2008, The George Carlin Letters are really The George Carlin Post-its — scrawled bits of paper left for his wife and her dog, silly doodles, and love notes penned on hotel stationery while he traveled the country doing his stand-up act.
Fans of Carlin’s brutally incisive monologues may be surprised by the ooey-gooey nature of the book, which features notes like ”Bein’ without you is like having no air, sunlight, scenery, stars, clouds, birds, flowers or trees.” To be fair, he does start that note with ”Hey Goofy — Where the f— are you?”
Unfortunately, Wade pulls these scraps together with blithe stream-of-consciousness narration when they actually need straightforward context to bring us into their charming but often inscrutable jokes. Carlin’s comedy took a grim turn in the late ’90s after the death of his first wife of 35 years. Wade mentions her death in passing but doesn’t provide any insight — did he pour grief and rage into his act, thereby freeing himself of it in real life? She doesn’t say. She devotes exactly one paragraph to his death from heart failure at 71, then six sentimental pages to him waiting for her in the afterlife. It’s a curious passage, since Carlin always espoused atheism in his act, or maybe it was just that — an act. At best, The George Carlin Letters show us that the man who made us laugh as well as think was as giddy as a schoolboy in the final years of his life. B-