George Carlin's New Hampshire Camp Connection

Aug 4, 2017

Kelly’s dad grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She remembers her father, George, telling stories of growing up in "Irish Harlem", a pretty rough neighborhood squeezed between Spanish Harlem, Black Harlem and Columbia University. George was a straight-up "city kid", but each summer from about the age of 6 or 7, until he was a tween, George escaped to New Hampshire, and a Catholic boy’s camp called Camp Notre Dame on Spofford Lake.   

“Every year they had a talent show.” Says Kelly. “And my dad was obsessed with the radio, and comedy on the radio, and loved mimicking the voices and people and making up his own radio commercials and things like that. I have a feeling he was probably imitating like camp counselors and things like that.”

And so, every year, George performed. It was his first time doing standup.

And he was good. Like really good.

“He won the talent show every year,” Kelly laughs, “not surprising.”

Not surprising once you discover that George, the summer camp impersonator, grew up to be a transformational force in comedy. His influence cannot be overstated, nor can it be summarized in just a few words. It could be in seven, but I can't say them.

Kelly Carlin is the daughter of comedian George Carlin, who would eventually get kicked out of Notre Dame Summer camp for stealing a roll of camera film from a local grocery store. Still, Kelly says that time, and those early successes at the talent show, imprinted on Carlin something that would last for the rest of his life, and influence his nonconformist brand of comedy.

Year after year, Carlin's routines won the drama award. One year before he got the boot, the "trophy" was a necklace, with one of those little comedy-tragedy drama masks on it.

“My dad wore that necklace all the time, and in fact was wearing it the day he died, so that's how much Camp Notre Dame and Lake Spofford meant to him.” Says Kelly.

After he died of heart failure in 2008, George Carlin’s last wishes were posted on his website: he requested his family disperse his ashes “in accordance with their knowledge of my prejudices and philosophies regarding geography and spirituality.” Kelly Carlin knew just what to do. She sprinkled some near the Manhattan comedy clubs that took a chance on the young Carlin, and then headed up to Lake Spofford.

Carlin performing one of his last shows in 2008
Credit Bonnie from Kendall Park, NJ, USA / By Bonnie from Kendall Park, NJ, USA - Jesus is Coming.. Look Busy, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4027016

“The day of it was a big lightening thunder storm, you could hear the thunder rumbling. It was so visceral to me,” Kelly says, “because it was like my father was speaking to us. It was very private, and it was very touching. And we released some of his ashes into the lake. And so a little part of his DNA is there in Lake Spofford!”

Kelly Carlin is the hose of Sirius XM's The Kelly Carlin Show, and the author of the memoir: A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George.