How Tony Orlando Saved George Carlin’s Career

American comedian George Carlin performs his stand-up comedy act on stage, 1981
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George Carlin is considered one of the best comedians of his time but in the 1970s, he was struggling. He had used some “dirty words” which made networks turn away from him. He couldn’t even find a job in Las Vegas. The recently retired Tony Orlando is now opening up about the time his friend Carlin asked him for help when he became “unbookable.”

He explained how some of those “dirty words” were very different from today’s standards. Orlando said, “On my variety show, we couldn’t use the word ‘pregnant.’ They thought that was an improper word to use in a sketch. We had to say, ‘in waiting.’ Couldn’t say ‘pregnant.’ That goes to show how strict it was back then.”

The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour. A CBS television musical variety show. Season premiere episode broadcast September 21, 1976. Pictured from left is host Tony Orlando and cast member comedian George Carlin

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So, what did Carlin say that was so bad? In 1972, he shared a monologue called “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” in a recording for his album Class Clown which features a lot of profanity. A year later, a radio station shared an offshoot of the routine called “Filthy Words” and unfortunately for Carlin, a CBS executive named John Douglas was listening with his 15-year-old son. To make things worse, Douglas was a member of Morality in Media. He filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and they determined the broadcast was “indecent.” Filthy words, indeed.

Comedian George Carlin appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC Studios on October 8, 2003 in Burbank, California

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It went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1978 with the case Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation and upheld the FCC’s power. During this time in the ’70s, networks and clubs alike were too nervous to hire Carlin. Orlando recalled, “He calls me. He said, ‘Tony, I need work. I’m broke. I got to find work.’ I said, ‘George, why don’t you become a regular on my show?’ He goes, ‘A regular? No one’s going to put me on your network as a regular with all this.’ I said, ‘Let me try.’ And I convinced the network to allow him to be a regular on my show, ‘Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour.’” Of course, there were stipulations and Carlin had to be on his best behavior because some of the execs were still worried.

Things worked out though and Carlin’s career was back on the upswing. Sadly, he died in 2008 at age 71 but will be forever remembered.

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March 2021

Chuckle at television & films funniest comic duos.

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