Current Late-Night Comedy Hellscape Keeps My Memories of Johnny Carson Alive

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’s farewell episode will air next month. We all knew Carson could not be replaced. The first few years following Carson’s retirement were markedly different for late-night viewers. The Jay Leno/David Letterman mess cast a shadow over the post-Carson period.

Carson was known to want Letterman as his successor. Dave always seemed too eccentric for the Tonight Show. I thought that he was a bit too eccentric for the Tonight Show, but he proved that wrong.

Leno and Letterman were familiar faces, and that was helpful. The late-night genre did not collapse when Johnny Carson retired.

It was a few decades away.

Carson was retired when I was still a young man, but I had watched him for many years. My paternal grandmothers were night owls. When I visited Tucson (I moved around a lot as a child) and was at their home, they would let me stay up to watch Carson. It wasn’t late. It was 10:30 pm here, which is an hour earlier than the rest of the country. When they first started letting me do it, I was probably nine or ten. It was a program that I grew with.

My friends and I were spread out all over Tucson when I returned to Tucson. I attended a Catholic highschool. We would watch Carson on the phone with one of my friends. The monologue was the original “Must See TV” and it’s worth watching even if you don’t watch the entire show.

Unfortunately, late-night humor has devolved into a series leftist infomercials. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel are only looking for applause breaks to score political points. Fallon initially resisted, but was shamed into being a shill of the Democrats. James Corden did not do politics on the Late Late Show but, during his tenure (which ended this week), he took the show into a direction I didn’t like.

My Morning Briefing readers know that I’m a late fan of Craig Ferguson, who hosted The Late Late Show. I discovered this through YouTube. Ferguson was full of that Letterman-like energy, and he didn’t take himself seriously.

Greg Gutfeld is still having a great time on Fox News Channel. But who knows what will happen to the network now that Tucker Carlson has been sacked? Gutfeld’s success in the face of the huge disparity between cable networks and the Big Three is even more impressive. This is a true David and Goliath story.

The Big Three’s dreadful late-night programming is what prompted me to pen this. Even though I grew up watching The Tonight Show and still do, I wish it were better. However, the fall from Carson’s show to Fallon is so abrupt that it feels like a fraud.

There are many shows on the internet from the Carson years. I watch clips on YouTube. You can also watch whole episodes on streaming services that are ad supported, like Amazon’s FreeVee or Tubi.

It can be bittersweet to watch episodes with guests I grew up admiring and then realize they are no longer alive.

Colbert, Fallon and Kimmel are made to look even worse by having a reminder that Carson was so good.

Carson made the occasional joke about politics, but never revealed his own political views because he did not want to alienate any of his audience. The Big Three Late-Night Hosts deliberately try to alienate conservatives. This is pathetic and unsustainable. It’s a fact that no one will be watching old videos of them 30 years after their retirement.

Carson is on my TV screen more than ever, even though I know it’s just Memory Lane. I watched him for five years and I still watch him now. The show was not broadcast because I was performing stand-up across the country and often arriving at clubs late. The VHS era was then, and I didn’t record anything at home while I was on vacation.

Johnny Carson is so enduring that his work could be viewed online in 30 years. I enjoy having the platform to post old Tonight Show clips in order to remind people of his brilliance. I hope that some young people will also become aware of him.

Kimmel, Colbert and Fallon should look at the old material and see if they are doing it correctly.