Johnny Carson, father of late-night television, died yesterday at the age of seventy-nine. In addition to being a stand-up comedian and master of the monologue, Carson was also a great interviewer. His appealing face and good sense of humor calmed the nerves of many whose careers were just starting and who were lucky enough to find themselves sitting in that famous seat next to Johnny on his “Tonight Show.” Carson introduced the world to countless numbers of new talent. And to be a guest on his show was to be discovered by the world. For many it was their ticket to fame.
In my opinion, Carson had a way about him that remains unmatched. His sincere interest in his guests was palpable, and one could easily sense in his interview the desire to make them feel comfortable and at home on stage. Even in interviews with children, Johnny was easy and comfortable, and his voice was constantly working to find the most productive vein of the conversation.
Carson was always willing to play the fool, relieving from his guests the burden of embarrassment for possibly saying the wrong thing. His background as a comedian gave him that perfect sense of timing, which, in the case of even the dullest of interviews, enabled him to keep the audience engaged. Like the Greek god Janus, Carson’s eyes were on two things at once: his guest and the audience. And he loved the dance of bringing the audience close to the individual.
It’s uncommon among most of today’s talk show hosts, but Johnny let his guest do the talking. His questions weren’t silly or shocking. They were personal and simple and intended to show the guest as one of us but without detracting from his or her talent or fame. Carson made sure that the spotlight was always on the guest, to whom he would give most of the interview space to talk. Never once did I see a guest have to challenge Johnny for the microphone. If the guest was talking, Johnny was listening – and so were we.
There will never be another one like him. Funny, smart, informed, charming, and warm, Johnny Carson was for many of us the voice of comfort and stability at the end of the day. He made us feel like everything was going to be okay.
Day 24 Guide
We seek comfort, but sometimes we’re blinded by the difficulties and problems that are our burden. We need a voice to remind us that things are going to be okay, that there is still love and beauty, laughter and life. Today, look for the clues that would take you back to Joyous Gard. Think today of memories that comfort you — memories of people, places or of times that make you feel warm and at home.
© 2005, Levi Hill