Sunday, January 23, 2005

 

RIP Johnny Carson

Damn, he could be funny. Carnac was always a treat, and one of the two most sustained laughs he ever got was from a Carnac bit where Ed McMahon set him up with "Sis boom bah", and the punchline was "What sound does a sheep make when it explodes?" (the other huge laugh actually happened over a commercial break, when Buddy Hackett told a particularly off-color joke that had everyone on the floor and Carson and the audience were reduced to incoherent laughter over that witticism). I always liked the Art Fern bit, Aunt Blabby less so. Most of the conversations were typical entertainment banalities along with nudge nudge wink wink references to bad behavior (I particularly remember one conversation with Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. that was obviously about substance abuse). However, Carson was always articulate and erudite, and made the show a pleasure to watch. The Tonight Show band was criminally underrated, Doc Severinsen and Tommy Newsome being top-notch musicians and arrangers and being good sports to put up with Carson's zings (Ed Shaughnessy was great on the traps, as well). The animal acts were always cute, and then there were the quips (the infamous one to Zsa Zsa Gabor that ended with "Well, if you get that cat out of the way...." comes to mind). Sometimes the guests were brutally funny, viz. Hackett and Joan Rivers. Sometimes, well, it was just there. It's one of those shows that couldn't exist in its form nowadays. Neither Leno nor Letterman has that brassy Rat Pack-ish vibe that Carson had all the way through.

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