Just shy of three months ago (November 10th) George Carlin's "sortabiography" Last Words was published. That same week the ever-loyal I-Man (who can still kick a book's butt up the best seller list) did a nice spot with George's bro Patrick, USA Today ran a great review, NPR's Talk of the Nation enjoyed an unprecedentedly (for them) laugh-filled half hour with Rebecca Roberts (who has a magnificent laugh herself), Mr. Olberman was kind enough to announce the book's arrival, right on air, and Tony posted a Carlin-gem-packed announcement right here on HuffPost, which the powers-that-be featured and HuffPost's discerning readers shared heavily with their BFFs.
For media coverage, all in all a good first week.
Very adequate. Very understated. Very nice start.
Not a single national radio show, not a single morning show, not a single late night talk show, not a single cable show of any description, however lowly or loony, thumbed out a text, offering a few minutes of "their" air for George's daughter, brother or co-author, all of whom give great interview.
In one sense it didn't matter. George's loyal fans, who span three generations, bought the book anyway and bulled it within a week to #7 on the New York Times bestseller list - ahead of Ted Kennedy, Malcolm Gladwell, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (and breathing down the neck of that argumentative idiot Glenn Beck) - all of whose books had had the benefit of being hyped to the ionosphere by national radio shows, morning shows, late night shows, cable shows, major papers, magazines, lifestyle sections, lit-blogs, you name it.
Now you'd think that jumping into the NYT Top Ten right from the get-go (the only other 'author' to do that that week was She Who Murdered Bullwinkle from a Helicopter) would have caught the attention of some clued-in, hands-on, 360-degree-vision media whizbang wouldn't you?
You'd be wrong. Again.
This apparent media shunning continued through November and the pre-Christmas retail frenzy when Last Words was outselling almost every other bestseller on the list - even the ones above it. Then the WaPo - one of the Only Two That Count in the book world - gave it a rave review, calling it not just funny, but a "powerful, personal, introspective story with real poignancy," adding that the account of George's service (and ultimate discharge) from the Air Force "rivals Joseph Heller's Catch-22," And this from the august WaPo mind you - not Numbnut's Reviews For A Dollar. Now, we thought for sure, our I-phones and B-berries would start vibrating with offers.
Nope. Not a single vibe.
So baffling was the silence we began to sniff around, and found out that the reasons our PR people had been giving us were (for once) absolutely true. It wasn't necessarily that the MSM - especially television - didn't want to know about George's life-story, it's just that they...
"...hardly do authors anymore," said a rep from a morning show (whose name you'd know but shall be nameless) then had three authors in a row on the next three mornings.
Or that they were "...you know, too busy with Jon and Kate and Sarah Palin," emailed another unnamed big-name morning show.
But most just said... "we can't have you on because You/We don't have an author." Well OK, but we do have the author's articulate and talented daughter, the author's beloved older brother, and the author's reasonably presentable co-author. Besides, this excuse didn't seem to apply to another well-known and equally dead Irish-American - Ted Kennedy. His posthumous musings "True Compass" didn't have an author either, but that didn't stop his widow Victoria being on so many shows she began to seem like wallpaper.
Was this massive media diss of an artist who has been called one of the greatest if not the greatest comedian of the second half of the 20th century, intentional? Possibly. But we leave media conspiracy theories to the rabid raccoons of the right (and Hillary Clinton).
Was this the snobbery of the upper-middle-class media for an outsider? Equally possibly. However incisive George's intellect, however wide-ranging his autodidact knowledge, he remained forever a 9th-grade dropout. The Harlem edge and earthiness of his work never sat that comfortably with our college-educated cultural bourgeoisie. (One worthless 20-something drone at CNN where Tony went to record a segment for a Canadian morning show, dismissed George's work as "foul-mouthed").
Was this the MSM, craven as ever, slavishly following the lead of the artistocracy - those who decide which frauds and daubs, which slabs of self-obsessed upper-middle-class logorrhea - constitute Art and Literature? Was the whole self-important, self-obsessed media establishment refusing to grant the term 'artist' to a mere stand-up comedian, however brilliant and vastly influential? Also possible.
Perhaps Rodney Dangerfield had it slightly wrong. It isn't just comedians who don't get no respect. Unless you're 300 years old and French, it's comedy itself.
Whatever the reason: ignorance, arrogance, snobbery or just media ADD, it was in the end, not tawdry so much as sad. Saddest of all was the response of the city George loved, the city he was proud to say was in every word he spoke, every step he took, the city to which he'd hoped to return before he died with a one-man Broadway show called New York Boy, an account of his wartime Manhattan boyhood based on Last Words and of which the good old WaPo said: "(After a very funny opening) something unexpected happens. He spends the first third of the book telling a beautiful, powerful story of growing up Irish in Harlem..."
Apparently it wasn't beautiful or powerful enough for the New York media. Although our own great newspaper came through with another glowing review, not a single television station, not a single cable outlet, not a single radio show or magazine or journal in his own hometown saw fit to write or speak a single word in memory of the life and genius - not to mention the last words - of an artist whom it's no stretch to call a national treasure.
For shame New York. For shame.
But even in the concrete heart of a media capital there's always a cockle of warmth. Paul Holdengraber, the dynamic and creative Director of Public Programs of the New York Public Library, has just announced that the Library will present a grand tribute to George's life and work in the place where he now belongs: the cultural epicenter of New York arts and letters.
The tribute will be hosted by another quintessential New Yorker, Whoopi Goldberg, joined by a number of comparable luminaries from across the creative spectrum - who will be announced over the coming weeks. It will take place on March 24th. Tickets are on sale. If you haven't had a chance yet, check out George's Last Words and come join us in March for an uproarious evening as we celebrate it and its incomparable author.
Joe bless you, The New York Public Library!
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