Johnny Carson was a form of entertainment all himself. When he retired and was replaced by Jay Leno, an era of television ended. When he died, an era of mankind died with him. There was never anything like Johnny Carson before him and most likely there will never be another Johnny Carson again.
Carson hosted “The Tonight Show” which had a long line of hosts before him, including Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs and Jack Paar, the last regular host who Carson ultimately replaced. After he died, Carson then went on to host the show for almost 30 years, a feat that has been equaled by nobody else.
Carson’s sidekick on the show was a guy by the name of Ed McMahon. McMahon was really there just to play off Carson and be his straight man. He didn’t really have much talent, but he didn’t have to. He played his role perfectly and the two of them formed a chemistry that rivaled the great duos of all time.
The premise of the show was very simple and pretty much set in stone. At the beginning of each show, McMahon would introduce who the guests would be for that evening after announcing the star of the show and then would come out with the now famous line, “Here’s Johnny!” Carson would then come out and do a brief monologue. In his monologue he would basically cover the current events of the day, mostly poking fun at the sitting President of the United States. Many people would say that his opening monologue was the funniest part of the show.
After the monologue, the show would take a commercial break and upon return, Johnny would be seated behind his desk. The rest of the show would focus mostly on bringing on the various guests. This was a chance for up and coming stars to shine. Getting onto the show was almost a free ride to success if you were good. Many great stars got their start on Carson’s showcase. Who could forget the first time that George Carlin first appeared on the show?
After the guests would perform, they’d sit down with Carson and chat. Some of the guests, like Carlin and Robin Williams, were outrageous and provided some of the most memorable moments on the show. Carson was a master at interviewing people as he made them feel so at ease.
But the show wasn’t just about guests. Carson also had his cast of characters whom he played on the show, like Karnac the Magnificent. This is where Carson would put on his little turban and pretend to be able to guess what the contents of individual envelopes were. Whenever McMahon would get to the last envelope he would announce this, bringing on great cheers from the studio audience, as the jokes were really pretty bad. To these cheers, Carson would make some kind of remark like, “May the fleas from a thousand camels infest your armpits”. The laughs were some of the greatest on television.
There are another angle to the Johnny Carson and his $156 million gifts that we should emphasize: He didn’t publicize his philanthropy. He didn’t tell his heirs or lawyers to issue a release saying what a great guy Johnny was to spread his wealth around. The website “The Smoking Gun” had to dig this information out from the IRS (and Johnny’s estate had to tell them).
What this means is that his charity came from the heart, not from the PR Department. And smart fundraisers can turn this to their advantage when they sell their organization’s mission to potential donors. They can encourage prospects to follow their hearts, too, in giving to further the work of their beloved charities. Some of the greatest giving can be done almost anonymously
Let’s enjoy this classic TV moment when Johnny Carson was joined by Rodney Dangerfield in 1983: