Sunday, January 23, 2005

Johnny Carson - Heeeerrrre's To You

"Never continue in a job you don't enjoy. If you're happy in what you're doing, you'll like yourself, you'll have inner peace. And if you have that, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined." Johnny Carson

“If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” Johnny Carson

We've lost an icon of a generation. Two generations really. If you're a Boomer like me, you grew up watching Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show with your parents. Then you continued to watch him on your own.

For decades, Johnny Carson was a part of our lives. He defined and reflected popular culture and the world around us. He took that responsibility seriously, and gave it all he had.

I was lucky enough to meet Johnny several times. My late uncle was Ed McMahon's business manager. Whenever I was in LA, I'd call Ed's assistant and she'd arrange tickets to the show. Not just any tickets, but first row, directly in front of the star on the floor where Johnny stood to give his opening monologue.

The studio was much smaller than it appeared on TV. But Johnny was larger than life -- and yet one of us.

Johnny's rapport with his vast audience was deep and personal. You sensed it at home, but you really felt the electricity in the studio. Because Johnny played not only to the cameras but directly to the studio audience, especially those seated in that first row. He connected with us, smiled and winked as if to insiders. And that connection translated into intimacy to millions.

Meeting him in person Johnny appeared more shy than aloof, but he was also courtly and warm. He had that twinkle in his eye and a solid likeablity factor that was one of the keys to his success.

The other keys were a keen intellect, enormous curiosity and genuine wit. He wasn't just funny, he was clever and insightful and had the ability to think. He thought beforehand in the careful crafting of every detail of his show -- and he could think on the fly. His ad libs were some of the best in the business.

No matter how successful he became, he retained a genuine aw shucks humility that made him seem so real, so approachable. As children we begged to be allowed to watch him, and were only given that privilege if we had no school or were sick.

In fact there's a clip Johnny used to run on his anniversary shows that surely hit home with many of us. He was interviewing a five-year-old boy and asked him if he was ever awake late enough to watch the show. The child answered in all innocent honesty, "Well, yes, when I'm up vomiting."

Nobody laughed harder at that than Johnny himself.

Johnny's equally pure, honest laughter at his own expense was one of his greatest gifts. You'd read about his personal life, all the divorces and stories of his aloofness and perfectionism. Then he'd make fun of those very stories, and thus of himself, and you were in the palm of his hand.

Johnny Carson's approach to humor was both subtle and broad, but it was never mean spirited. Because, whatever his own failings and foibles, he was a kind, decent man. Johnny was one of the good guys. Unique. Special. And now gone.

Good-bye, Johnny. And thank you for so many wonderful nights.

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