I’ve skipped virtually all of the television tributes to Johnny Carson – it’s honestly too hard for me to watch. I probably will, however, check out Letterman and perhaps Leno tonight to see how they treat the news.
I think one of the reasons why this affects me so is because Johnny was for so many years the primary comedic beacon in my life. He was ground zero for funny. And with Johnny has died a big chunk of my youth.
Johnny’s birthday was the day before mine. Every kid wants to know who famous is born on their special day. For me, the most notable person within bragging range of that date was Johnny Carson.
When I was a kid my family toured the Burbank studios where Tonight was taped.
I remember the set covered in sheets to keep the furniture clearn. I remember the colors, much brighter than on my TV. I remember the size of the studio, much smaller than I had imagined it – in part because the camera would never pan the entire set. You never saw Johnny move from the curtain to the desk, so you never got a sense of scale.
I remember walking through the parking lot and seeing the spot labeled “Johnny Carson.” There, in that spot, was Johnny’s green Mercedes convertible. And in the back seat was a tennis ball. Yes, Johnny’s tennis ball.
I didn’t see Johnny, I saw his tennis ball in his green Mercedes in his parking spot at his studio where he produced his show which changed my life.
Now that’s a memory.
When people tell you Radio is passe, remember that Radio gave birth to Johnny Carson and Johnny gave birth to generations of comedians. I’m speaking directly to air talent when I tell you that if you’re as good as you can be you’ll be better than anyone else imagines.
The giants have passed this way before. Make them proud.