Carlin Street Campaign Sparks Controversy


New York comedian George Carlin opening a comedy festival in 2007 (AP Photo/E. Pablo Kosmicki)

What was supposed to be the Uniform and Transportation meeting for Community Board 9, to decide whether it would support renaming 121st Street for comedian George Carlin, took an unexpected turn on Oct. 6 when a group of priests and others from Corpus Christi Church, Carlin’s church as a child, appeared at the meeting.

“We have some problems,” said Carolyn Thompson, the head of the Uniform and Transportation Committee, as soon as comedian Kevin Bartini, who is spearheading the renaming campaign, walked in. This committee is responsible for deciding whether a recommendation to rename the street should be passed to the City Council.

As Bartini presented his case, he said, the church contingent was silent. But then one older churchwoman said she had lived in the neighborhood for 40-plus years and never even heard of George Carlin. Another said Carlin didn’t even grow up in the area, nor did he die there, or do anything for the neighborhood. Bartini said he was fuming.

“Carlin lived in the area for 20 years! Are they joking?!” said Bartini lividly. At the end of the meeting, no vote was taken. Instead, the members of the church, the people who live on that block of 121st Street and Bartini set up a meeting where the community could voice their opinions on why they are for or against the name change.

The Rev. Raymond Rafferty of Corpus Christi Church declined an interview, but instead referred to a sample letter and daily flier that he and the church have distributed to oppose the renaming.

The memo said that people in the community are opposed to “Carlin’s anti-religious rants, his advocacy of substance abuse and his misanthropic tirade about being happy to see people suffering because of natural disaster.” Carlin’s comedy also based some jokes on his atheism and made a mockery of Corpus Christi, though that is not mentioned in the flier.

Sample letters are available in the church vestibule, where people can sign a copy or send one of their own.  The letter, which is supposed to be sent to the Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, the chair of Community Board 9, says that Carlin’s vulgarity does not make him a role model for the children who attend the Corpus Christi School on the block. The letter also states, “I know of no way that George Carlin has contributed to the community.”

For his part, Bartini needs more support from people on the block instead of fans across the world. Corpus Christi says that by getting signatures on the petition only from out-of-town fans, it is a “frivolous attempt by geographically dispersed fans of George Carlin to bestow upon him some sort of posthumorous honor.”

At a recent rectory meeting, Rev. Rafferty, Bartini, Randy Jurgensen and two other supporters of the street renaming met for two hours to discuss how to proceed. Jurgensen is a parishioner at Corpus Christi and went to school with Carlin.

“If George knew this was going on, he would be pissed off,” said Jurgensen.

Jurgensen says the school was run differently from the way other Catholic schools were run.

“We dressed in civilian clothes,” he said. “We entered into the same door and boys and girls sat alongside each other.”

Because the school already seemed so liberal, by Catholic school standards, Jurgensen said he doesn’t see how Carlin’s performances could create an uproar over the street renaming.

“I am in no way challenging the priests,” he said. “What I’m hoping to do is show them, in a proper way, the non-staged George Carlin that never forgot the neighborhood.”

Jurgensen said, for example, that when one of their classmates fell on hard times, “Carlin paid his rent for 22 months.” When that man, a New York City police officer, died, Carlin flew in and paid for the funeral, Jurgensen said. Carlin also flew another police officer classmate to California to see his own doctor about a heart problem, and supported a shelter for battered women, he said.

Bartini said he went to the meeting at the church not to fight them, but to hear them out. Rev. Rafferty expressed concerns that the church’s letterhead address would have to change because of the street renaming, Bartini said, but he assured the priest that it would not change the address: The street would still be 121st Street, and Carlin Street or Carlin Way would be just a co-name.

“I pointed out that we are living in a democracy, and the majority are on our side,” said Bartini in regards to their meeting. “At the end of the day, it is a majority rules type of thing.”

But until Bartini can spread the word around that actual block and ask residents (not fans) about how they would feel about the street renaming, the vote will be postponed. They will regroup in January or February next year.


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