My 10 Favorite Johnny Carson Moments
For some of us, there’ll always be only one host of the ‘Tonight Show,’ no matter how many came before or after. Here are my favorite Johnny Carson moments.
Here, in no particular order, are my favorite Johnny Carson moments from NBC’s Tonight Show. Carson reigned for 30 years on the program, and honestly, I’ve never enjoyed a late-night talk show since his 1992 retirement.
At least we have YouTube!
1. The Thanksgiving Chat with Doc Severinsen
From 1979, Ed McMahon was off on this particular night and so bandleader Doc Severinsen moved over to Ed’s chair. Doc and Johnny got into a long adlib about their Thanksgiving plans and hilarity ensued:
2. Does Ed need ‘a little nappy-poo?’
As the story goes, despite all the jokes about Ed’s drinking, there was only one instance where he actually was tipsy on the job, and as Ed himself told it, he was trying to overcompensate. But this 1977 clip is a testament to Ed and Johnny’s chemistry:
3. Sis Boom Bah
This is one of Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” sketches in which he would hold a sealed envelop to his head and magically summon the answer. This one tickled both of them:
4. Welcome, New Sponsor!
On the surface, it might seem to be the worst way the show could have ever welcomed a brand new sponsor. But I guarantee more people paid attention to this particular plug because of Johnny’s antics:
5. Johnny vs. the Marmoset
The San Diego Zoo’s Joan Embery introduced Johnny to a little creature called a marmoset, which took a liking to Johnny and climbed up to the top of his head. But when Embery tried to remove the content little animal, it left something behind:
6. ‘Our Love is Here’ Duet with Pearl Bailey
This impromptu performance came in 1964 with the legendary Pearl Bailey when the two tried to assume the roles of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. If it doesn’t jump to the 13:56 mark, scan to that point:
7. The Baby Orangutan’s Take
Joan Embery brought twin baby orangutans to The Tonight Show in 1974, and Johnny and Ed each held one. She told Johnny that the orangutan would laugh if he laughed at it, but when he tried, the orangutan did a perfect comedic take to the audience that broke up Carson completely:
8. Stop Tape! Where’s Don?
Bob Newhart guest-hosted the December 13, 1976, episode during which Don Rickles accidentally broke Carson’s cigarette box. The next night, Carson noticed the box was broken and was told Rickles had done it the night before. So Carson stopped his show, went across the hall where Rickles was taping his show, C.P.O. Sharkey, and demanded an apology:
9. Johnny Loses Control of the Panel
In this classic clip from 1969, Bob Hope and Dean Martin are joined by George Gobel, who tells a hilarious story about being a fighter pilot, apparently unaware of what Martin is doing to his drink:
10. Bette Midler’s Last Song
This was from Carson’s next-to-last show in 1992. Bette Midler sings the song “One More for My Baby,” and her emotion pretty much summed up the nation’s on Carson’s retirement:
Honorable Mention: The Tomahawk Chop
McMahon describes this as the show’s biggest laugh, but the clip misses two of the three big lines McMahon descibed in an interview years later. Actor and singer Ed Ames, who played Mingo on Daniel Boone appeared on the show and talked about learning to throw a tomahark properly. They brought out a piece of plywood on which was drawn the outline of a cowboy. Ames throws the tomahawk and hits the “cowboy” right in the crotch, producing a huge laugh. Here’s Carson’s first remark:
McMahon said after the laughter died down a second time, Carson said, “Welcome to the frontier bris,” which McMahon said got another huge burst of laughter. Finally, when Ames asked if Johnny would like to try tossing a tomahawk himself, Carson took one look at the plywood and said, “I couldn’t hurt him any more than you did.”
That’s my list.