Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Wonderful obit by Edelstein at Slate for Johnny Carson. This was my favorite observation:
Carson also perfected the art of making a joke that bombs even funnier than a joke that works--a mixed legacy, insofar as many modern TV hosts (among them Letterman) are more comfortable than they should be going out with second-rate material. Why was that talent so breathtaking? Because TV seemed a more earnest medium back then, too, and Carson introduced an exhilarating note of self-consciousness. In a late-'70s profile in The New Yorker, Kenneth Tynan noted that Carson could spot the flaw in his own delivery before a joke had even left his mouth. He had the fastest and most exquisite audience-reaction meter of any modern comedian: He knew when a bit had bombed so badly that it could only be salvaged by insulting the audience; when it had just missed and could be goosed into working; and when it had killed and could be ridden triumphantly into shore. (The only current host with the speed and agility of Carson in his prime is Jon Stewart, who goes politically where Carson feared to tread.)
He makes some trenchant observations on Original Johnny versus Late-Era (L.A.) Johnny, and I think he's right on the money. Also read this Esquire profile if you're hankering for more.