As a 12-year-old, Jonathan Abikzer, sitting in the back of the bus on his way up to summer camp, delighted in listening to the “seven dirty words” track on George Carlin’s album.
“He pushed boundaries, and I liked that,” Abikzer, a Teachers College doctoral candidate, said of the comedian. “Twelve is a rebellious age. It resonated with me.”
Abikzer now lives on West 121st Street, where Carlin grew up, and is one of 3,000 signatories on a growing petition to name the street after his childhood idol. Fans of the legendary comedian want to add Carlin’s name to the 500 block of West 121st Street, where Carlin grew up in the Miami, building number 519.
Carlin’s daughter, the writer Kelly Carlin, told the Village Voice, “My dad loved his neighborhood deeply and, you know, I think it’s important that New Yorkers know where he came from.”
The Change.org petition was started on Monday by “The Daily Show” comedian Kevin Bartini.
Leta Weintraub, who lives in the building next to the Miami, said that residents at their last building meeting seemed interested in adding Carlin’s name to the block. “People [in the building] would love to see that happen,” she said. “But I think the city is a little annoyed over all the different street names—for one, all the money that goes into the extra signs.”
The process of co-naming a street—since “George Carlin Way” would not supersede 121st Street—requires City Council approval.
Weintraub said she personally didn’t have strong feelings about honoring Carlin. “I’ve read his autobiography. I always liked him,” she said. “He was a very clever comedian. I don’t think he was that great a person, but that’s a different story.”
Trey and Sarah Wilson, who moved to the block just a week ago, are divided over the issue. The couple, both Teachers College students, said they were “appreciative” of the comedian, but Trey said he thought adding Carlin’s name to the ranks of Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass—both of whom are namesakes for avenues just a few blocks away—would be “a weird juxtaposition.”
But because one block of a smaller street isn’t quite as much of an undertaking, his wife was more in favor of the change. “I would want to see the crux of the argument, but I think it would be good,” she said.
Carlin’s most famous act involved seven words that were—and still are, by FCC rules—unfit for television. But fans say his own name should be getting more exposure.
“It’s interesting that a whole generation doesn’t know who he was,” Abikzer said. “They should know who he is. It’s important to be able to say what you want to say. He pointed out the stupidity in why you can’t say those words.”