A petition to co-name one block of 121st Street after comedian George Carlin has been met with opposition from a church on the street.
Famous for declaring “religion is bullshit,” Carlin grew up on the block and attended Corpus Christi Primary School before going on to a successful career in comedy—throughout which he mocked religion and his childhood church. In a statement, the Rev. Raymond Rafferty, Corpus Christi pastor, said that history makes the potential name change inappropriate.
“Mr. Carlin made his early reputation by mocking religion and the clergy of this parish, and his vulgarity does not make him a role model for anyone, especially the children attending our school,” Rafferty said. “A street may be renamed in honor of someone who has contributed to the immediate community. I know of nothing Mr. Carlin did to contribute to the West 121 Street block that would support this petition.”
But Kevin Bartini, the comedian on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” who started the petition, said he believes that Carlin is a role model for comedians as well as for students.
“He would take a kernel of an idea and look at the idea from all sides,” Bartini said. “He had all of his bases covered.”
Bartini said that Carlin’s dedication to his career was admirable, and that the fact that he completed 14 HBO stand-up comedy one-hour specials is “out of this world.”
“Jerry Seinfeld has one and most people do one or two,” Bartini said. But Carlin “just kept going, and there are guys who work to get that one hour and then keep that hour for 20 years. He was always working and always moving forward. That makes him an amazing role model.”
It falls to Community Board 9, which represents West Harlem and Morningside Heights, to decide how to act on the petition, which has garnered over 5,000 signatures since it began in September.
“The board is basically weighing in on the people and those directly affected on the block,” Eutha Prince, district manager of CB9, said. According to Prince, the City Council committee that oversees the co-naming of streets must review the recommendation and present it to CB9 before a vote can be held.
Even after meeting with representatives of Corpus Christi to discuss the church’s opposition, Bartini said he was not swayed.
“We’ve heard their opposition and we don’t particularly agree with the points of the opposition,” Bartini said. “At the end of the day, the number of people who were for us greatly outweighed those who were in opposition. That’s not a scientific polling, but that’s what I saw standing out on the corner getting signatures.”
It is likely the co-naming will go forward, Prince said, but the opposition from Corpus Christi might mean that an alternate street will be co-named for Carlin.
“He may have made fun of religion—he certainly made fun of a lot of things. I don’t think anyone was spared, and that’s how it is with a lot of humor,” CB9 member Brad Taylor said. “That was obviously a brilliant comedian who grew up in our neighborhood and I would think we would want to honor him.”