George Carlin, passed on in 2008—he would prefer died—but the celebrated, foul-mouthed comic will live around the corner from where he grew up in the 1940s, the 500 block of 121stStreet in Morningside Heights. After months of disagreement, Community Board 9 voted last week to rename the 400 block of 121st Street after the controversial comedian.
The vote, 25-4 with 3 abstentions, comes after months of disagreement. Perhaps fitting for a man with an album called Class Clown, Carlin is still riling up his Catholic grade school, Corpus Christi, which is attached to Corpus Christi Church on the block between Broadway and Amsterdam that was almost renamed. Rev. Raymond Rafferty, the pastor at the church, had protested naming the street where the school is located after a well-known atheist and opponent of religion.
Speaking with The Observer after the board’s decision, Rev. Rafferty said that the church would not take any action to challenge the renaming of the street at the City Council level, where the community boards’ decisions are almost always honored. The curt Rev. Rafferty said the church is “not actively involved” in the process after compromising with the community board to move the sign to a different block.
Kevin Bartini, a warm-up comedian for The Daily Show, championed the cause of renaming the street and collected 9,000 signatures in support on the Internet. He was quoted in the Coulumbia Spectator as stressing the importance of the neighborhood to Carlin, saying, “He would not be who we know and love today had he grown up somewhere else.” Carlin, forever carrying the stamp of his Catholic upbringing like the red marks on a bad student’s knuckles from whacks with a nun’s ruler, also repeatedly referenced growing up at religious school, though almost always negatively.
Rev. Rafferty had originally rejected a proposal for the street sign to be on the 500 block but on Amsterdam Avenue, which is farther away from the church. He is particularly focused on not having school children see the sign as an approval of their wayward predecessor who found secular success. Noting Carlin’s endorsement of drug use he said, “If I had my own way, I would name nothing after him.”