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Comedians on Acid: Hippie madness at the end of the 60s

Last week we posted our interview with Kliph Nesteroff about his marvelous new book The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy, which is now available for purchase.

It’s a winner, folks. Simply put, Kliph has carved out an area of research and made it almost entirely his own—I refer to the development of the world of professional stand-up comedy in the decades before Richard Pryor, George Carlin, or even Lenny Bruce. (Not to worry, he also covers everything up to Louis CK too.) Kliph has made it his business to acquaint himself personally with many of the surviving old-school stand ups from the 1950s and also with the bounties of Variety’s archives.

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy is about the Chitlin Circuit and vaudeville and the Mob and drugs and everything else, in other words, the seamy underbelly of the comedy world. This book will be a staple of comedy book lists for decades to come and is a must for every comedy nerd.

Here’s an exclusive exceprt from The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy.

Chapter Nine: Hippie Madness at Decade’s End

Marijuana and LSD were huge influences on comedy at the end of the 1960s. It was not uncommon for talk show guests to show up high. George Carlin said he took “a perverse delight in knowing that I never did a television show without being stoned.” Paul Krassner dropped acid before a Tonight Show appearance with guest host Orson Bean. Krassner was immersed in his trip when he walked through the curtain. “I kept staring at Ed McMahon because his face was melting into his chest. Orson asked me, ‘Have you taken LSD?’ He meant in a general sense, but I had this thought, ‘Oh, no, he can tell!’”

Phyllis Diller encapsulated the older generation’s ignorance of counterculture elements when a reporter asked her if she would remarry. She responded, “What kind of LSD have you been smoking?” Such cluelessness was common as Hollywood’s gatekeepers struggled to relate to the new hippie demographic. Television shows like Dragnet and My Three Sons portrayed counterculture protestors as morons. Carl Reiner’s son Rob was cast in several sitcoms play-ing such roles. “I did three Gomer Pyles, played a hippie in a couple of them. Did a Beverly Hillbillies, played a hippie in that. I was like the resident Hollywood hippie at the time. I had long hair and they needed somebody. In one of the Gomer Pyle episodes I actually sang ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ with Gomer.”

Veteran filmmaker Otto Preminger gave LSD the Hollywood treatment in 1968 with a motion picture called Skidoo. Preminger contacted Rob Reiner to help write dialogue for the hippie characters in his film. “Preminger was a very interesting, liberal guy and he took acid early on,” says Carl Gottlieb. “He wanted to meet The Committee. So we all trooped down to his offices with Rob Reiner.” Reiner said, “I went in and turned out some pages for hippies so that they would say ‘groovy’ in the right place.”

Groucho Marx was cast in Skidoo as an LSD dealer named God. It was surprising he agreed to it, as he was contemptuous of the new social mores (“That Midnight Cowboy. It’s about a stud and a pimp. I hated that movie”). Marx may have hated the counterculture, but he was hip to many of its elements. He subscribed to Paul Krassner’s paper The Realist, which featured articles about the drug culture. Krassner says, “Groucho was concerned about the script of Skidoo because it pretty much advocated LSD, which he had never tried but he was curious. Moreover, he felt a certain responsibility to his young audience not to steer them wrong, so could I possibly get him some pure stuff and would I care to accompany him on a trip.”

Groucho Marx high on LSD? Some who knew Groucho question the story. “It’s a fucking lie,” says producer George Schlatter. “Groucho never took acid. He didn’t need acid. Everyone else needed acid!” Carl Gottlieb agrees. “I doubt that story, because my contact with Groucho was around the same time. He was pretty infirm. The acid that was around in those days was the Owsley acid—Windowpane. It was brain-breaking.”

“Well, that was the reason Groucho asked me,” Krassner responds. “I have a letter from Lionel Olay, a popular magazine writer. He had interviewed Groucho and Groucho told him he was very curious about LSD. He read The Realist and about my taking trips. Bill Targ, my editor at Putnam, was a friend of Groucho. The writer of the movie Skidoo, Bill Cannon, introduced me to him. Groucho and I had lunch. He asked me if I could get him some LSD. Groucho was not going to go around boasting about this. It was just to prepare for the movie Skidoo. I accompanied him on his trip. We used the home of an actress in Beverly Hills. Phil Ochs drove me there. It was Owsley acid. Three hundred micrograms.”

Skidoo entered production with a cast that seemed plucked from Hollywood Squares. It included Frankie Avalon, Carol Channing, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Arnold Stang and Jackie Gleason. It had a soundtrack by Harry Nilsson and an unforgettable scene in which Gleason, high on psychedelics, is haunted by the disembodied head of Groucho Marx.

Robert Evans, the head of Paramount, was not happy with it. “It was a zero on every level,” said Evans after the screening. “The guy [Preminger] cost us a fuckin’ fortune. His new entry belongs in the sewer, not on the screen. He’s such a prick; he gets his nuts off seeing us sink.”

Cheech and Chong’s best-selling ‘Big Bambu’ album came with a gigantic rolling paper. For obvious reasons, these rolling papers are rare today…

Several comedians considered their psychedelic trips important, life-changing experiences. “Pot fueled Cheech & Chong during our heyday,” said Tommy Chong. “Pot and to some extent acid. It had changed our world and it put me on a path to artistic and financial success. The spiritual effects and the revelations never leave. The secrets that LSD revealed to me changed my life forever.”

George Carlin felt the same. “I know exactly when I first did acid—it was in October 1969 while I was playing a major, now long-defunct jazz club in Chicago called Mister Kelly’s. Next to my [note-book] record of that booking, which was otherwise uneventful, is written in a trembling hand the word ‘acid.’ Actually in the course of a two-week gig I did acid multiple times, maybe five, maybe ten. Fuck the drug war. Dropping acid was a profound turning point for me, a seminal experience. I make no apologies for it. More people should do acid.”

Chris Rush was another comedian who came into being with the counterculture. Psychedelics informed his act. “When I took lysergic acid diethylamide I started rapping comedy: full, polished conceptual chunks. It just flowed through me, and I was a stream-of-consciousness comedian. I started doing it for fun in loft buildings and I started doing some clubs. This guy Mark Meyers from Atlantic Records came to see me. He said, ‘This guy talks like George Carlin.’ Bingo, I had a record deal.” His album First Rush sold half a million copies in the early 1970s, mostly to pot-smoking college kids. “They’d get high with twenty of their friends and put the album on.”

Comedy and the counterculture coupled with the new technology of FM radio. During the early 1960s FM radio was mostly used to simulcast aurally superior versions of AM sister stations. In 1967 the FCC passed an ordinance that ended such simulcasts. It forced FM to devise original programming. In order to fill mass spaces of airtime in a pinch, young disc jockeys turned to playing entire sides of LPs rather than just one song. Soon FM was a place where hippie rawkers and their long jams received maximum exposure. Likewise, comedians who aligned themselves with the counterculture found entire sides of their comedy records being played on FM. College-aged kids tuning in to hear their favorite hippie music were turned on to the comedians being played on the same stations—and those comics saw their ticket sales increase enormously.

Amid the FM scene emerged an audio comedy troupe called the Firesign Theatre. Phil Austin, David Ossman, Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman met at the newly minted Los Angeles FM station KPFK. They worked in various executive positions and eventually left for KRLA and improvised drug-influenced comedy on the show Radio Free Oz. Surf music producer and KRLA employee Gary Usher used his industry connections to secure the boys a deal with Columbia Records. “I’d see The Byrds at Columbia Studios when we were all recording,” said Phil Proctor. “We didn’t realize how much history we were observing or even making. There was very easy access. People were very friendly and the music brought everybody together. Pot brought everybody together. It was a very sociable scene, you know, hot and cold running girls all the time…We were using the Columbia studio where The Byrds recorded, [but] also the radio studio where Fred Allen had been.”

The Firesign Theatre, George Carlin and Cheech & Chong owed their vast success to FM. The radio stations were listened to by thousands of impressionable college students. “FM radio helped expose the records, and that led to our ability to headline shows on college campuses,” said Proctor. “We were asked to go on the road with the Maharishi.”

Comedian Jimmie Walker says FM radio was a platform for comedians who never would have been accepted in traditional circles. “They would never have gotten on Carson or anything like that. Lou Adler from A&M Records came up with these guys from Vancouver—Cheech & Chong. There was a new thing called FM and Lou said, ‘I’m going to make an album with these guys.’ These guys started selling out colleges, and we were stunned. Nobody was doing that. FM changed everything. It changed the face of comedy.”

Jack Margolis, a comedy writer who once wrote for Jay Ward cartoons, composed the seminal counterculture comedy record of the time. A Child’s Garden of Grass was based on his satirical paperback of the same name, the first in-depth comedic look at the effects of marijuana. Released by Elektra, the same label that had Jim Morrison and the Doors, A Child’s Garden of Grass had its advertising turned down by every major magazine, was denied a spot on the shelves of Wallichs Music City in Hollywood and was banned in Washington State. An FCC ruling that forbade “drug lyrics” kept program managers from playing it. Despite the kibosh, it sold four hundred thousand copies. Its only real advertising came from a large billboard on Sunset Boulevard across from the Whisky a Go Go. It is impossible to calculate the number of joints that were rolled on its gatefold surface.

The longhairs dominated radio. Cinema was maturing rapidly. Battles against censorship were being won on both literary and nightclub fronts. But television, beyond its odd spontaneous talk show moment, appeared unaffected by the times. “There was a real revolution happening in other media,” said comedy writer Rosie Shuster. “There were all these Jack Nicholson movies coming out that reflected that sensibility of the sixties. In music there was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the Stones and the Beatles. But television was still stuck in some time warp that was more like the fifties.

”Comedians appearing on The Tonight Show still had to adhere to a traditional dress code. “For a long time the rule on Johnny Carson was tie and jacket,” says Robert Klein. “I came on without one once and Johnny didn’t say anything, but it came down through [Tonight Show producer] Freddy de Cordova: ‘Tie and jacket!’ ”

THE COMEDIANS copyright © 2015 by Kliph Nesteroff; used with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Below, the extended trailer for Otto Preminger’s ‘Skidoo’ featuring Dr. Timothy Leary, Sammy Davis Jr. and more…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Comedians on psychedelic drugs

If you just want the tl;dr, feel free to skip to the bottom of this post where comedians George Carlin, Joe Rogan, Doug Stanhope, Bill Hicks and Duncan Trussell are heard discussing their experiences with psychedelic drugs. I won’t be offended.

There was a period of my life when I was in my 20s where I had no idea what to do next. I’d been in Los Angeles pitching TV show ideas around, without success, and had moved back to New York in an effort to shake things up and change my luck, but that was even worse. I was depressed and confused basically about what direction my career and life should take, working in a shitty job I hated and… things just sucked.

It was at this point fate intervened and presented me with a gram vial of DMT. Why not? It was a message in a bottle from God, I rationalized, as I went through that gram, and then a second, and about, I dunno, perhaps 45 grams of mushrooms in the coming two months. I could smoke DMT four times a day, easily. That probably seems just a little bit excessive, I realize, but I still held down a job even if I was carrying on a schizophrenic dialogue with my spirit guide, a wise-cracking raven with a voice like Eddie Murphy.

Just kidding. No, I’m not going to get into any of my “tripping stories” or anything like that (plenty of those—not mine—over at Erowid Vaults) but I will say that it did inspire me to change my act basically, like George Carlin talks about in his section of this video. Within a few months of my “psychedelic period”—this was in the mid-90s—the possibility the Internet seemed to offer as a place for my particular talents to prosper was becoming apparent to me and I started trying to get Disinformation off the ground.

I agree with Terence McKenna: If you go to your grave without having pierced the veil with psychedelics, it’s like dying a virgin. Yeah, I maybe went a lil’ ‘round the bend for a couple of months, but like the gentlemen in the video below, no regrets:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Wait a minute, George Carlin, Eazy-E, Karl Marx, Lucille Ball and Frank Zappa were MORMONS?
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George Carlin
Frank Zappa. Mormons

If you don’t know about it, the Mormon Church has a curious habit (tradition? doctrine? what would it be called?) of baptizing dead people as Mormons posthumously. In other words, they get “saved”—like it or not—after death. Apparently baptizing famous people became a bit of a “fad” in the 1990s.

Believe if or not, infamously outspoken hater of religion George Carlin is now, that’s right, a Mormon in the afterlife. I’m sure this will be news to him. (Can you imagine his reaction???)

Gender: Male
Birth: 12 May 1937 Manhattan, New York County, New York, United States
Death: 22 June 2008 Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California, United States

Individual Ordinances

Baptism Completed, 14 August 2010, Columbia South Carolina Temple

Confirmation Completed, 26 August 2010, Provo Utah Temple

Initiatory Completed, 8 September 2010, Jordan River Utah Temple

Endowment Ready

Mormon temples across America have also claimed The Breakfast Club director John Hughes, sportscaster Harry “Holy Cow!” Caray, Nancy Spungen, Richard Burton, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, George Orwell, Jim Morrison, Tupac, Timothy Leary, Carl Sagan, Vlad the Impaler, Freddy Mercury and Truman Capote as their own. Here’s a head-scratcher: dead rapper and drug dealer Eazy-E is now a Mormon, too. Hilarious, but it made me wonder how a Mormon has even heard of Easy-E in the first place?

Would this be considered the Mormon equivalent to a prank? It’s so… Mormon I just can’t tell! Maybe they really are trying to “save” these folks and the only irony is what we non-believers might project onto this type of behavior? Who knows?

Jewish groups were outraged to find that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun appeared on LDS “genealogical” records. Heinrich Himmler’s name was also submitted for baptism.  In 1995 an agreement was made to “un-baptize” 300,000 Jewish names, many of them Holocaust victims. In 2008, after he secured the Democratic Party’s nomination, Barack Obama’s dead mother, Stanley Ann Dunham—who passed away in 1995—was baptized posthumously.

Apparently even Alexander the Great converted to Mormonism (twice) many centuries after his death in 323 BC.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Romantic Mr. Carlin: Sweet love letter from George Carlin to wife
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George Carlin


If you took THE NUMBER OF SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES IN THE UNIVERSE and multiplied that number times itself THAT MANY TIMES; and then added the total number of MICRO-SECONDS since the beginning of time, times itself; and then added 803—you would STILL have only the tiniest fraction of A BILLION-BILLIONTH PER CENT of the amount of love I HAVE FOR YOU.


your candle partner,
the romantic Mr Carlin,
your eternal flame.


The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade by Sally Wade

via Letters of a Note

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Amazing hand-carved phonebook portraits of Marty Feldman, George Carlin, James Brown and others

George Carlin

When I blogged about Alex Queral‘s hand-carved phonebook sculptures back in 2009, I only featured his ace George Carlin piece as a prime example of Queral’s work.

I still like George the best, but Alex has added a lot more work since then. Check these out:

Marty Feldman

Sammy Davis Jr.
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Genius in action: George Carlin speaking to the National Press Club in 1999
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Pop Culture

George Carlin

Busted in Milwaukee
George Carlin, now more than ever!

Carlin speaking before the National Press Club on May 19, 1999 is a reminder that in 13 years little to nothing has changed in America’s political and cultural landscape. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

What a brilliant human being.


Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Short-haired George Carlin on ‘What’s My Line?’ in 1969
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George Carlin
What's My Line

George Carlin—who began his career as a fairly conventional, TV-friendly stand-up before he began discussing those “seven dirty words”—appeared as a celebrity guest on What’s My Line? in 1969.

Soupy Sales zooms in pretty quickly to guess Carlin’s identity despite his best efforts to remain inscrutable, if not incomprehensible.

Via Everlasting Blort


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Occupation Foole: Sign petition to name a block in NYC after George Carlin
10:02 am


George Carlin

This petition is directed towards the District 9 Community Board and NYC City Council and the object is a worthy one in my never so humble opinion: Name the 500 block of West 121 Street in honor of George Carlin. This should really happen:

George Carlin, brilliant and prolific comedian lived and went to school on this street. He love this street and crafted many of his most famous routines around it.

We the legions of fans, admirers and fans of George Carlin believe that a street should be named in honor of the greatest comedian of all time in his hometown, the greatest comedy city of all time!

As readers of this blog know, I absolutely revere George Carlin, so I’d love to see this happen. His must-read autobiography, Last Words, tells charming tales of how the characters in his Morningside Heights neighborhood influenced his comedy. Carlin wrote in the book that for his entire career the voices he did were nearly all imitations of the vivid crowd of smartasses he ran with as a kid.

Below, Carlin on The Midnight Special in 1973:

Via Kelly Carlin’s Twitter feed

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
George Carlin on why we should Occupy Wall Street pt 2

You can grab a larger version here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
George Carlin on why we should Occupy Wall Street

Via Redditor minus000

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
George Carlin on why we should Occupy Wall Street

When Tara and I were traveling last month, I read George Carlin’s splendid, posthumously published autobiography Last Words on the plane. I’m a mega George Carlin fan. There is very little of his material that I haven’t heard and I just miss his voice more and more with each passing year. Sure we’ve got some contemporary greats like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert taking on the political and cultural issues of the day (I happen to like Joe Rogan’s stand-up a lot, too, he’s really underrated) but just like there will only ever be one Mark Twain, one Lenny Bruce or one Richard Pryor, there will never be another George Carlin, either. Carlin was a wise-acre product of Depression-era New York City. It was the no-bullshit (yet filled to the brim with hypocrisy!) New Yawk Irish-Catholic milieu that George Carlin was raised in that produced such a unique comic mind. I think he was a great artist and a great American. If you want to understand how Carlin became Carlin, I can’t recommend Last Words more highly.

By the end of his life, George Carlin had become more than just a mere comedian or humorist, he’d become a stand-up philosopher equal parts Nietzsche, Karl Marx and Céline. The material of Carlin’s later years is the work he was the most proud of, and indeed, it was the finest comedy he ever gave us. The darkest, most nihilistic, most rip your face off and shove it down your fucking throat stand-up comedy…. probably of all time. How could you top it? Who would dare try?

The terminal view of mankind, religion and Capitalism expressed in his 1999 HBO special You Are All Diseased and 2005’s Life is Worth Losing was so bleak it was thrilling. There were several times during these broadcasts when I recall thinking “WOW, I can’t believe I just heard someone articulate that thought and in that way.” I wondered, too, what would happen to the brain of a conservative or religious person who might be unwittingly exposed to Carlin’s sneering premium cable mindfuck! (I mean how many Christians accidentally tuned into his HBO special with no idea of what to expect except cursing and watched him do “Religion is Bullshit” and promptly rethought how they’d been behaving for their entire lives? For certain people, hearing the ideas expressed in that one impassioned ten-minute-long rant must have been like having a nuclear bomb go off in their heads. It’s a more powerful argument against religion than anything Richard Dawkins has ever come up with, that’s for sure, and funnier, too!).

Carlin was never much of a topical comedian, so much of his material is evergreen and will stay that way because it expresses deep societal truths and expose hypocrisy so ruthlessly. No surprise then, that his rant about Wall Street, corrupt politicians and end-stage Capitalism is still so on the money. Watch this:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Inexplicable photo: George Carlin and hairy voodoo doll
01:16 pm


George Carlin
voodoo doll

While rummaging around on the Internet trying to find a George Carlin action figure (which I did find, BTW), I stumbled across this bizarre image of a cut-out George Carlin waving at a hairy voodoo doll and thought I’d share. You’re welcome!

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
George Carlin on the Republican’s ‘Ryan plan’

Not exactly, but he might as well be talking about the so-called “Ryan plan” from beyond the grave…

The more things change, the more they… oh wait, nothing’s changed!

This video is as evergreen as it is brilliant, a “one size fits all” discourse of the futility of capitalism that lends itself to an infinite number of different blogging contexts. Today, it’s the “Ryan plan.”

Via Crooks and Liars

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
George Carlin still letting politicians have it, from beyond the grave
12:24 pm


George Carlin

Could there possibly be a more to the point analysis of today’s America’s political landscape? I don’t think so, but if there is one, surely it’s not this funny.

Carlin sure is missed, isn’t he?

via Christina Ward (who is mourning the loss of Russ Feingold, as I am).

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
George Carlin: Religion is Bullshit
12:20 am


George Carlin

George Carlin was born on this day in 1937.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment