Comedy and George Carlin are synonymous. When one looks up comedy in the dictionary, they see his picture. He is one of the models for modern stand-up and is a hero to anyone performing today. He has received every accolade a comedian can gain. However, one particular comic who resides in Carlin’s neighborhood of Morningside Heights in New York City, noticed there was a tribute missing for Carlin.
Kevin Bartini, who warms up the crowd for “The Daily Show“, noticed that the street Carlin grew up on, West 121st Street, wasn’t named for him. Through the encouragement of friend and executive producer of “The Daily Show”, Rory Albanese, Kevin decided to make sure the street name was changed.
It was three years ago. Bartini was discussing comedy with Albanese, and like most comedy discussions, the topic of Carlin came up. Bartini had just finished reading Carlin’s biography. Printed in the book is the address where George grew up, which inspired Bartini to make the pilgrimage to the historic house. He saw it was not far from his own residence but found it surprising the street was not yet named for Carlin.
“You know what struck me as odd… the street isn’t named after him,” Bartini said. “You would think in New York, where every street is named after somebody you never heard of that it would be [named for Carlin].”
He informed Albanese of the situation, and his friend simply stated that Bartini should make this happen. But initially, Bartini had some trepidation.
“I’m not the guy who would ever think, ‘Oh, that’s something I could do,’ but Rory is that kind of guy,” Bartini said.
Inspired by Albanese’s ascension from intern to executive producer of “The Daily Show”, Bartini took Rory’s advice and decided he would go for it.
“When you get a buddy who’s motivated and smart, you do well to kinda take whatever lesson you can gleam from them, and his attitude is just ‘Well, go do it. Why not you?’ And so I was like, ‘Why not me?’” Bartini said.
The first step for Bartini was to reach out to Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, to get permission to go forth on this journey. It was through a simple message via Facebook that Kevin wanted to find out two things: If a street naming was already in the works for George and if not, could he be the one to do it.
Bartini, never meeting or speaking to Ms. Carlin before, respectfully wanted to make sure she was fine with someone who wasn’t in the Carlin family to undertake this venture. This is very true to Bartini’s nature. Kevin had never asked for any favors to progress in stand-up. Although it was offered, he hadn’t even sought help from friend Albanese to become the warm up act for “The Daily Show”. Bartini made it clear to Mrs. Carlin that he wanted to gain nothing more from this opportunity than to have the street named for her father. She granted him her blessing, and Kevin set forth on the next part of this journey.
Bartini started out by going to West 121 Street to seek petition signatures for the street name changed. Once he got 500, he started a larger online petition on Change.org, which ended up going viral overnight with thousands of people signing and getting national media attention.
The next step was to take the petition to the community board. Here, Bartini met opposition from Corpus Christie Church, which is also located on West 121st Street. Carlin, who was outspoken against the church, probably would not have been surprised. Still, a small amount of letters from this group of church ladies (roughly 80) was no match for the 10,000 plus signatures Bartini was able to gain. The opposition did prompt Kevin to add on a public relations adviser. Having never taken on a task of this type of magnitude, Bartini was learning as he went.
With the addition of members to his team, Kevin saw that it was time to raise funds to pay for those who would aid in this cause. The great part about the new team members was their willingness to work with Bartini for lower pay than their positions normally require. Overall, the mission of naming a street in Carlin’s honor was more important. Such charitable efforts seems to have a magnetic appeal, and soon, even more help was on the way.
After hearing about Bartini’s cause, Gotham Comedy Club owner Chris Mazzilli offered his club and services. Bartini needed a fundraiser and sought the helped of colleague and Carlin fan Eddie Brill. Brill, who knew Carlin personally, worked with Kevin on reaching out to comics to join a showcase in raising money for the charity.
On July 17, Gotham Comedy Club hosted a showcase, which featured Bartini, Albanese, Brill, ”The Daily Show” creator Lizz Winstead, Lewis Black, Dave Attell and Nick DiPaolo, and was emceed by Judah Friedlander. Friedlander joined a week beforehand after catching the buzz about the show off twitter. Like many times in New York, comics came together with excitement and without hesitation to rally around a great cause. The house was packed and the crowd enjoyed a great night of laughs, hoping to further the cause help to create George Carlin Way.
Come October of this year, the final vote will be handed down from the city. Chances look good for “George Carlin Way”. Bartini says they are 99 percent of the way there and would like to have a ceremony the day of the actual unveiling.
Throughout all this, Bartini has gained attention for his endeavor, but says he will not exploit Carlin’s name in any way for his own career gains.
“I’ve gotten a lot of publicity off of this but… I don’t want a single club to book me off the basis of ‘He’s that [Carlin street name] guy.’” Bartini stated. “I’m not emailing comedy clubs and being like, ‘I’m the guy!’ or anything like that. And the same thing. Nobody else has given me any opportunities because of it, and I wouldn’t take it if they did.”
With a humble and respectful attitude, Bartini went after this to make sure the right thing was done. Truly, it is the George Carlin way. To have the street carry on the Carlin’s legacy in his name will solidify what Carlin meant not only comedy, but to his native New York City.