Here’s Johnny!

Johnny CarsonOn this day in 1925, the comedian Johnny Carson was born. When I was a kid — a little kid, because my parents were, well, permissive — I liked him well enough on The Tonight Show. Unlike the adults who watched the show, I liked it more when there were guest hosts. Two of my favorites were David Letterman and David Brenner. But I thought that Carson was funny. I enjoyed watching his show. Of course, I remember thinking that Bob Hope specials were so funny and when I’ve had a chance to see them as an adult, I’ve been horrified. (The movies are just fine.)

But Carson did tell one of the funniest jokes I have ever heard. It involves our current governor who just so happens to have been our governor then. In case you didn’t know it, Brown had a reputation for being, well, very California. People referred to him as “Governor Moonbeam.” Having told you that, I will just quote from last year’s birthday post:

The Democratic National Convention was going on. Jerry Brown had run for president and he came in a distant third. But he was still an important presence at the convention. Carson said (more or less), “A reporter ask Brown if it bothered him that a lot people thought he was a new age hippy. And Brown responded, ‘Well, you give good karma out, you get good karma back.'” Okay, that’s a solid joke. But it died. Carson got nothing from the audience. So he ad libbed, “How about: he said it while meditating on ten pounds of raw liver?” I died. To this day, I think it is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. No one agrees with me. I guess you had to be there.

Carson started doing magic as a young man. He continued with it through college before thinking better of it. But he clearly never lost his interest as you could see on the show where he often booked magicians — often even good ones. And of course, there was my absolute favorite part of his show, Carnac the Magnificent. The best part of this clip is when Carnac says that he needs quiet and Ed McMahon says, “You’re getting a lot of it tonight.”

I could give you an overview of Carson’s rise to fame, but there really is nothing more boring than than the stories of people who worked in radio and the early days of television. It is always the same, “He did one thing here and then he moved and did a different thing there and then he was at yet another place doing yet another thing.” It ends with, “And in 1962, he reluctantly took over The Tonight Show.” And he did the show until 1992 when they gave it to Jay Leno. Leno, you may recall from the early days of Late Night With David Letterman. That was when Leno worked as a comedian. By the time he took over The Tonight Show, Leno was working in another medium that I could never quite figure out. Carson, on the other hand, could always make me laugh. Here’s a parody of Columbo that I rather like:

Happy birthday Johnny Carson!

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