While I’m not much of a fan of Ellen DeGeneres’s present talk show, this clip of her first performance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show is a wonderful example of just how smart and funny she was as a stand-up.
More Tonight Show at Johnny Carson
Magicians know Harry Lorayne as the author of some very popular books of card magic, but Harry, who is now in his 90s and still writing card magic books, really made his bread and butter from a related but different form of show business. He was recognized as one of the foremost “memory experts,” and in the 1960s and 70s, he made scores of television and night club appearances, amazing audiences with his memory stunts.
In this clip he memorizes the names of the people in Johnny Carson’s audience, having met them briefly just once before the show. It’s fun to see how Harry uses his entertainment skills and enthusiastic personality to turn what could be a dry demonstration into a showstopper.
Thanks to YouTuber Rudy Tinoco
El Mouldo was yet another hapless magician from the Carson cast of characters. In this segment from 1974 he challenges an audience member to do his magic act.
The talented woman in the sketch is Tracy Newman, whose younger sister, Laraine Newman, was one of the original Saturday Night Live cast members.
Thanks to YouTuber miguelbonaroti
Johnny Carson had a lot of great long-running character bits on The Tonight Show, but my favorite was “Carnac the Magnificent.” The premise, of course, was that the great mystic seer from the East would divine the contents of a hermetically sealed envelope.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Carson, a fan of magic and a magician himself (see here for my interview with Lance Burton where Burton talks about Carson), took the character from these guys.
Some of Carson’s jokes are very topical and don’t land anymore (two Leon Spinks jokes?), but the audience knew the format and eagerly responded. In my opinion, Ed McMahon earned his keep here as a terrific straight man in this routine. Now you, too, can partake of the wisdom of the great mystic seer by clicking on the video above.
Thanks to YouTuber Richie Cunningham
Johnny Carson was always quick on his feet, but he was at his best when he had someone like Charles Grodin with which to duel. In the above clip from The Tonight Show, the two have a wonderful 15-minute parry-and-thrust that is just hilarious. Click on the above video to play.