May 22, 2018 marks 26 years since Johnny Carson hosted his last “Tonight Show.” Remember Ed MacMahon’s nightly “Herrees Johnny” intro? Johnny was the go-to guy every night for a last laugh and a little bit of relaxation before going to bed. His jokes and sketches weren’t always knee slapping funny, but even when the gags fell flat Carson went with it, laughing at himself and in so doing squeezing more out of a bum joke than he would have gotten otherwise.
The thing about Johnny Carson’s show was that he never came off nasty or mean-spirited. You never knew what his personal politics were because he was an equal opportunity kidder; his jokes were aimed at Democrats and Republicans evenhandedly with the same objective – to be funny. It wasn’t about tearing someone apart because you didn’t happen to agree with his politics. It wasn’t about being hurtful, angry and spiteful or being disgustingly vulgar as so many of the late-night hosts gleefully are today.
Sad to think that so many young people have never enjoyed that Johnny Carson Tonight Show experience; indeed they probably don’t even know what clean unbiased humor is. Carson wouldn’t dream of alienating half of his audience or taking sides politically or culturally. He was into entertaining people, period. Giving people a laugh or two each night, a chance to unwind, to forget about the day’s tension and problems.
Carson attempted to reach as big an audience as he could. He wanted to entertain everyone, the more people the better. And he was working “clean” as they used to say. No vulgarity or hate, and certainly no political agenda. The exact opposite of what liberal partisan hack hosts like Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and others engage in on a nightly basis. As another writer once said, these so-called “comedians” have turned late-night TV into Left-night TV.
The goal of the late-night shows isn’t about entertaining a broad audience anymore; it’s about playing to the ultra-liberal Left and putting down anyone who isn’t on their side. It’s all about espousing a Left-wing viewpoint, and if that means losing half of their potential audience, so be it. They don’t want those viewers anyway.
When did comedy turn into hate? We always had comedians poking fun at presidents and politicians on both sides of the aisle, taking some innocent jabs at society, and joking about the ironies of life. But that is a far cry from the personal hateful, vindictive diatribes we hear from the Left-wing hosts on late-night TV today.
This hate-filled Leftist comedy reached a new low recently at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with Michelle Wolf’s disgusting monologue. Admittedly, it takes a lot for the liberal mainstream media to be repulsed and shocked by their own kind, but they were. Several news organizations have made the decision to pull out of future Correspondents’ Dinners following the public outcry over Wolf’s vulgar over-the-top hostile rant. Maybe this will shut down that event entirely. Let’s hope.
Some used to think that Don Rickles was insulting and mean to his audience, but that wasn’t true. Sure, Rickles’ act was insult humor, but it wasn’t for real and everyone knew it. Rickles, (or Mr. Warmth, as Carson referred to him) had class and a sweetness that always came through. His humor was never meant to be cruel. I’m pretty sure Rickles would be disgusted with the hate that masquerades as humor today.
The term late-night TV should be changed to hate-night TV. Don’t expect anything to change for the better on these late-night hate shows. Pigs will be pigs and they will continue wallowing in the mud for the rest of their careers. That’s what they do. The great comedy of Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason is gone.
Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson are dead and so is that brand of late-night talk show. Dick Cavett is still with us but not an active participant anymore. Jay Leno was the last true comedy host on late-night TV but he too has left the scene. Really funny men like Ray Romano and Jerry Seinfeld are no longer a visible part of what passes for comedy today.
Today’s so-called comics have at long last succeeded in taking the humor out of comedy. It’s all about hate now. What a shame. Where’s Johnny when we need him?
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.