As yesterday’s Drew Carey interview revealed, for the 30 years Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show, getting an offer to sit on the couch after your performance instantly changed stand-ups lives. Carl Reiner said, it “was like the Pope blessing you.” Overnight, comedians would go from a feature act to taking meetings with the biggest agencies and managers. Today, late night appearances are nice but they have barely a fraction of the influence Johnny had.
Below are 13 clips from comedians’ first time on the Tonight Show. For how rare it was to get asked to sit on the couch, being asked on your first time was damn near impossible, happening maybe 15 or so times ever. So let’s play a game: watch the clips (make sure to stop when instructed or before, otherwise you will find out the answer) and try to guess who got the wave to come chat for a bit. Or you can just watch these old clips of now famous funny people before they were famous but not before they were funny. Good luck and heeeeere’s Johnny!
1. Jerry Seinfeld 1981 (stop at 5:55)
2. Eddie Murphy 1982 (stop at 6:10)
3. Ellen DeGeneres 1986 (stop at 5:59)
4. Kevin Nealon 1984 (play the whole thing)
5. Jim Carrey 1983 (stop at 8:08)
6. Andre Philippe Gagnon 1985 (stop at 9:13)
7. Jeff Marder 1990 (stop at 6:05)
8. Garry Schandling 1981 (play the whole thing)
9. Steven Wright 1982 (stop at 3:20)
10. Yakov Smirnoff 1985 (stop at 7:10)
11. Roseanne Barr 1985 (play the whole thing)
12. Bill Maher 1982 (play the whole thing)
13. Jeff Dunham 1990 (play whole thing, if you dare)
1. Seinfeld – NO 2. Murphy – YES 3. DeGeneres – YES 4. Nealon – YES 5. Carrey – NO 6. Gagnon – YES 7. Marder – NO 8. Schandling – NO 9. Wright – YES 10. Smirnoff – YES 12. Barr – YES 12. Maher – NO 13. Dunham – YES.
How did you do? It’s hard to notice a trend here really as most of these sets were actually quite good. The one exception being Gagnon. What the hell was that? His Cocker and Roth were identical. For my money, DeGeneres was the best. Maybe that last sentence will inspire her to get back into stand-up again, making this post the new Johnny Carson’s couch.