Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"You are deceased, sir."

You knew that eventually I'd get around to Johnny Carson, who passed away on Sunday. I appreciated Carson for a number of reasons, but I'll narrow the list to two.

First, no one in history did more to promote stand-up comedy than Carson did. Inasmuch as I believe that stand-up is the purest form of comedy — not to mention one of the most effective vehicles for communication ever invented — that's no small accomplishment. Comedy Central's recent 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time series ranked Carson 11th, way too low on a list that included Rodney Dangerfield and Roseanne Barr in the top ten, but perhaps 90 percent of the others on the list owed their careers, at least in part, to appearances on Carson's Tonight Show. When, as a comedian, you cracked the Tonight Show nut, you were on your way. If the impossible happened, and Carson invited you over to sit on the big couch after your set, your asking price immediately increased by a factor of ten. No one else in the business ever wielded that kind of starmaking power.

Second, as a performer, Carson not only possessed incredible timing, but he was the best mistake-maker I've ever seen. Carson could flub a line, or have a bad joke fall flatter than a souffle at a rave, and come back with a facial reaction or ad lib that was funnier than the original line or joke could ever have been. Even when flustered — as, for example, when zoo animals appeared on the show and their handlers couldn't control them — Johnny stayed in the pocket and spun hay into comedic gold.

It was a sad night for television went Carson lobbed his last phantom golf ball into the Tonight Show band. It's sadder still to know that Johnny will never again stride through the curtain, with his aw-shucks demeanor and razor wit, and make us laugh at our own foibles and those of our fellow human beings.

No more Carnac the Magnificent. No more Art Fern and his Tea Time Movies. No more shrugs of those skinny shoulders that always seemed a mite too small for his jackets. No more hilarious takes from that wonderfully expressive face. The world is less funny without Johnny Carson in it, and that's unfortunate. We need all the laughs we can get.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

I haven't blogged about Johnny. I know it's so un-American of me. I am sad though, but somehow I think Donald Trump is even sadder. Something managed to upstage his big day.

4:43 PM  

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