Sunday, January 23, 2005

Good night, Johnny

America lost a good man and a great entertainer today.

I missed a good part of Johnny Carson's long career on The Tonight Show, but I saw enough of it to know he was the gold standard of late-night talk show hosts. Carnac the Magnificent, the golf swing, Stump the Band, the fawning sidekick, "Here's Johnny!" -- the list of Carson's additions to popular culture goes on and on, and his comedic influence clearly lives on in David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, among others.

Above all, I'll remember Carson best for his classiness and air of decency. Even though he was a very private man with some marital struggles, he always left you with the feeling that he was a good guy who did well for himself. Most importantly, he brightened your day with laughter, and he did it better than almost anyone else. For that, Carson deserves our gratitude.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just knew you were busy blogging about this when I IMed you.

The loss of Johnny Carson is something I think we can both agree on, and something even liberals, conservatives and moderates can agree on.

I too didn't get to see much of Carson's career when he was going at it, but his show was definitely a sight to see. I think it was the Family Channel (before it became ABC Family, I think) that used to show his old bits, and I watched the infomercial hawking the "Best of..." videos a couple of times.

While others may disagree, I don't think Leno is that bad, but just had the misfortune of having to fill Carson's shoes, which no man can truly do. Letterman and Conan are funny in the own right and in much different ways than Carson, but even at the top of their game, Carson would be a few points higher.

I'm trying to remember if Carson's famous reponse to the question "Would you like to pet my pussy?" is real or television folklore, though I will scour the Internet tomorrow to see if there's actual video of it. I believe it was far before the VCR era, but hopefully it's out on a "Best of..." collection and someone will dub it to digital.

As you said, Carson was a classy guy, and if he were on the air now could still score laughs with his quick responses and subtle dirty jokes (the "pussy" response, many Carnac jokes, etc.).

But I think I like Carson the best for two reasons. He went out at the top of his game (some entertainers and celebrities don't know when to quit), and he truly stepped out of the spotlight after quitting and knew not to try to jump into it (again, a lesson today's entertainers should learn).

1:09 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Snopes labels that story "false" based on the weight of the evidence. We'll never be entirely sure, though, because the tapes of Carson's first decade of shows were erased, which is a shame in its own right.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I just saw Jay Leno's special edition of The Tonight Show devoted to Carson. It was a very classy and very moving tribute with Ed McMahon, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Drew Carey, and K.D. Lang, plus loads of old clips of Johnny's good stuff.

Whatever I may say about Leno's show sometimes, he's a class act, and tonight's tribute proved it. Carson was an impossible act to follow, but Leno did a good job of honoring him with a show that had just the right mix of solemnity and humor. Good job, Jay.

12:20 AM  

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