Last Words by Tony Hendra

I will admit, I purchased my copy of Last Words with reservations. I did not know what to expect from this posthumous work about George Carlin’s life. Was this merely a presentation of facts or just a rehash of all the George Carlin stories that are generally known? Then I read the first sentences of the book:

“Sliding headfirst down a vagina with no clothes on and landing in the freshly shaven crotch of a screaming woman did not seem to be part of God’s plan for me. At least not at first.”(Carlin, page 3)

Instantly, I knew that this book was going to be a great ride. I knew that voice; it was Carlin’s voice. It had an eerie feeling, almost like returning from a funeral and then listening to a voicemail from the deceased. In my humble opinion it is one of the best opening sentences ever put in a book.

The introduction of the book outlines the genesis of this ‘sortabiography’ as a series of recorded (40-50 hours) and unrecorded interviews between George Carlin and Tony Hendra. Carlin even worked on opening chapters with Hendra.

The book stays in Carlin’s optimistic voice with accounts of his early life through chapters themed around his father, mother, self and brother. The chapters then go on to describe his career from his early radio days and short-lived comedy team with Jack Burns (coined Burns and Carlin) highlighting both his successes and his failures. Carlin also gives a candid picture of his relationships with his wife, Brenda, and his daughter, Kelly.

Last Words covers many aspects of Carlin’s comedy including his epiphany to drop the safe ‘hippie dippy’ comedy for more authentic socially challenging material, his drug use and the detrimental effect of drugs on his comedy, his financial issues and his writing methodology. The book is peppered with excerpts of his routines from his Burns and Carlin days up to more recent HBO specials. The book culminates with his vision of a Broadway show he was working on before he passed away which leaves the reader with a sense of incompleteness and loss of what may have been.

Last Words captures the wisdom and experiences of a comedian who set himself apart by maintaining a thriving stand-up comedy career for more than fifty years. The book is an invaluable study of a master wordsmith for comedians seeking to find their own voice and a must read for any fan of George Carlin.

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