John Carlin (businessman)

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John Carlin
Born (1955-07-01) July 1, 1955 (age 59)
Residence New York, NY
Nationality American
Education Columbia University B.A., Yale University Ph.D, Columbia Law School JD
Occupation Co-founder and CEO of Funny Garbage and the Red Hot Organization
Funny Garbage
Red Hot

John Carlin is an American entrepreneur, art historian, record producer, and cultural historian with credentials that are “unconventional and upscale: a degree in comparative literature from Columbia University, a Ph.D. from Yale in the same subject, and a law degree from Columbia."[1] His career is equally varied, embracing entertainment law, art and popular culture, web design and the record industry. Along the way, he founded two innovative companies, wrote and published numerous articles in the fields of art and literature and produced 20 groundbreaking albums and related television programs, which incorporated the talents of leading performers, producers, directors and visual artists culminating in donations of over $10 million for AIDS relief worldwide.

Early career[edit]

Carlin first began in the early 1980s as a Professor of Art and Popular Culture after obtaining his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale University. During this period, he was the lead art critic for Paper magazine,[2] taught at Yale, Williams College, SUNY Purchase, and Connecticut College and curated museum exhibitions related to pop culture at many venues, including the Whitney Museum of American Art.[3]

After receiving his JD from Columbia Law School, Carlin began practicing entertainment law at the New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, representing corporate clients ranging from EMI Music, SBK Records and Revlon to artists like Jonathan Demme, Richard Hell, Art Spiegelman and David Wojnarowicz.

Red Hot Organization[edit]

While working at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Carlin grew troubled by the nation's AIDS epidemic. '“Then providence — in the form of a disingenuous client — called.” "I blew my fuse when a company I was working with did a thing to raise money for AIDS and then never gave the money," Carlin says. "I thought, 'Instead of getting mad, go do something about it." [4]

While at the firm, Carlin created what was to become the multimedia project—“Red Hot + Blue” a Cole Porter tribute album featuring original recordings by U2, k.d. lang, Sinéad O'Connor, Annie Lennox, David Byrne. Its 1 ½ hour TV special, hosted by Richard Gere, Carrie Fisher and Kyle MacLachlan aired on December 1, 1990 – International AIDS day during prime time on ABC. In 1990, John left the law firm to found the Red Hot Organization as an ongoing production company, which became one of the leading international organizations dedicated to fighting AIDS through popular culture.

Since then, the Red Hot Organization has produced 20 groundbreaking albums and related television programs, incorporating the talents of leading performers, producers, directors and visual artists to give away over $10 million for AIDS relief, including over a million dollars from the album Dark Was The Night, an indie rock compilation produced by Carlin [5] with Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Over 400 music and visual artists, producers and songwriters such as: Madonna, Dolly Parton, Sting, The Roots, Nirvana, David Bowie, Mary J. Blige, Herbie Hancock, Arcade Fire, and Feist have donated their talent and vision to Red Hot's cause. Despite the popularity of the Red Hot albums, the weight of Red Hot's cause is never lost on Carlin. He's quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine as saying, "we're a company that would like to be out of business." In the same article Rolling Stone refers to the Red Hot Organization as "The music industry's most successful AIDS-awareness group." [6]

Funny Garbage[edit]

In the mid-1990s, Carlin founded Funny Garbage the interactive development company, whose clients include MTV Networks, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Star Trek, Crayola, The Smithsonian Institution, PBS, CNN, HBO, Bloomberg, The City of New York, The School of Visual Arts, as well as cultural institutions like the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Experience Music Project, and many others. In the book, “Designing for children: marketing design that speaks to kids,” [7] Catharine Fishel interviewed Carlin on his approach.

“Funny Garbage approached design for children from two perspectives. One perspective is best typified by our work for the Cartoon Network and Disney. It is mainstream style. The other perspective is represented by Willing-to-Try. This is more of a vision of what things could be rather than what they are. Both points of view are intellectually valid. The former is better suited to paying the rent.”[8]

"Carlin has a unique background in both business and art..." which allows him " bring creativity and imagination into the company."[9] In 2004, Funny Garbage worked with Angela Martini to create a comedy series for Disney based on her character Katbot with a pilot directed by Mike deSeve.

Art and popular culture contributions[edit]

1993, Carlin curated, “COMIC POWER: Independent/Underground Comix, U.S.A” with Carlo McCormick. Comic Power focused on the emergence of underground and independent comics, commonly referred to as "comix", in the United States. Unlike the commercial comic industry, underground comics were designed primarily for an adult audience. The themes and issues engaged by underground comic artists were explicitly personal, with powerfully idiosyncratic sexual, social and political themes. Also, underground comic art was strongly visual, putting forth an innovative approach to graphic design and artistic expression that is built upon and challenges traditional comic strip form and content.[10]

In December, 2005, Carlin co-produced (with art historian Jonathan Fineberg) a two-hour documentary on 20th-century American art called Imagining America[11] that aired on PBS on Wednesday, December 28, 2005. A companion book was later published,[12] which takes readers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Cindy Sherman in under 200 image-filled pages.

“Focusing on the biggest names in 20th-century art-O'Keefe, Davis, Pollock, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Basquiat-the authors, writer-curator Carlin and art historian Fineberg, present a spirited case for artists as society's "independent conscience," probing and reflecting changes that have shaped American life. The ideas of writers like Emerson, Pynchon and McLuhan and key developments in American music such as jazz and hip-hop are interwoven with stories of the creative quests of individual artists, which are gripping without being over-romanticized.”[13]

In the Fall 2006, Carlin curated the exhibition “Masters of American Comics”,[14] a large-scale exhibition comprising in-depth presentations of work by 15 artists who shaped the development of the American comic strip and comic book during the past century. With over 900 objects on view simultaneously at both museums, the exhibition provided understanding and insight into the medium of comics as an art form. "The history of comics is about many things--stories, gags, characters and layouts. But in the end, it all boils down to inventive ways to design pictures and words to engage readers and make them pay attention."[15] The exhibit ran at the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.[16] A related book, also called Masters of American Comics was published in 2005 complete with illustrations, contributions by Jules Feiffer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Glen David Gold, Matt Groening, Pete Hamill and a unifying essay by Mr. Carlin.[17]

An introductory essay by Carlin for the Whitney Museum of American Art, Downtown’s exhibit, 'The Comic Art Show,' ranged from the rampage of the 18th dynasty in Egypt through the Cædmon manuscript of circa A.D. 1000 to Goya, Rowlandson and an illustrated letter from the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. New York Times critic, John Russell wrote of Carlin's essay, “Somewhere in all this, a very amusing book lies in wait for the right publisher.”.[18]

In 2010, Carlin wrote an introductory essay for Ink Plots: The Tradition of the Graphic Novel, a publication by the School of Visual Arts associated with an exhibition of the same name that explored "the development of sequential art over four decades with selections by SVA faculty members and showcases the work of SVA alumni who are pushing the boundaries of the graphic novel today." [19] The exhibition and publication were curated by Marshall Arisman and Thomas Woodruff, professors at SVA, and included work by Patrick McDonnell, illustrator of the popular Mutts comic strip, Andres Vera Martinez, and Aaron Campbell.


  1. ^,9171,991877,00.html
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  6. ^ "Rocknews Red Hot + Positive" By Matt Hendrickson, Rolling Stone, September 5, 1996
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  8. ^ "Designing for children: marketing design that speaks to kids"by Catherine Fishel, Rockport Publishers, 2001 - Business & Economics - 160 pages
  9. ^ May 13, 2010,
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  13. ^ Imagining America Icons of 20th-Century American Art, by John Carlin and Jonathan Fineberg, Oct 2005, ISBN 978-0-300-10997-9,
  14. ^ and Time Archive: "Peanuts in the Gallery," by Richard Corliss, December 5, 2005
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  17. ^ edited by John Carlin, Paul Karasik, and Brian Walker[disambiguation needed] with Cynthia Burlingham and Michael Darling, the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in association with Yale University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-300-11317-X
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