Timing is everything

By Tom Quiner


I see that PBS is broadcasting a new documentary next Monday, May 14th, “American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.”

This is the 50th anniversary of Johnny Carson taking over the reigns of the Tonight Show from Jack Paar. At his peak, his audience was double that of Jay Leno and David Letterman combined.

Carson had a gift for making even bad material funny. His timing was perfect. The clip above is one of the most famous from the early years of his tenure on The Tonight Show.

Watch what happens when his guest, Ed Ames, throws the tomahawk into a rather embarrassing place on the target.

Carson reaches out, catches him by the arm, and milks the moment for all it’s worth.

No one could top Carson as a host of the Academy Awards either, not even Billy Crystal. Carson was wonderful when surrounded with big egos, because he could deflate them with such grace without angering anybody. And yet he was just as wonderful with ordinary folks, whom he strived hard to make look good.

With Carson, his interviews were always about making his guests look good.

David Letterman could take a cue.

Happy anniversary, Johnny!