Sunday, January 23, 2005

Goodnight, Johnny

A: Never again.
Q: When will there be another presence like Johnny Carson?
And if you disagree with me, may the sweat of a dozen pregnant camels accumulate in your oatmeal.

As he makes his way to that great Slosson cutoff in the sky, let's take a minute think about the impact Johnny Carson had on his art form, and let's think about our own impact.

- Johnny inherited a simple format. He personalized it, expanded it, and stamped it in a way that spanned 40 years (example: Steve Allen's Question Man predated Carnac, but who did you think of at the start of this entry?) If you are a writer, what contributions to your form are you making that are unique? Memorable? Different?

- Editors and reading series hosts, this one's for you: Johnny had everyone from zookeepers to actors to writers to that lady who found a potato chip that looked just like Bob Hope, and he gave them all respectful time and made them all better for being with him. Don Rickles, in an interview on NBC tonight, said his appearances on The Tonight Show were on a different level from much of his work because of Johnny. What do you do in your collections and with your features to make them better? Isn't that your job?

- He booked a wide variety but he knew his audience, or else how could he have lasted so long and left on his own terms? What's your audience? What are you doing to serve them with your art? Yeah, yeah, "art for art's sake" and all that, but who are you hoping is going to see your work and what are you delivering to them to earn that privilege?

- With many "hosts", it's about the host bringing the funny or looking clever. If it was about that with Johnny, he was the greatest actor who ever lived. Ask yourself seriously: Do you want to create art or do you want to be "an artist"? It's not always the same thing.

Late night television hasn't been the same since Carson. What are you changing? And how are you changing it?

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