Johnny Carson had a “special obscenity license”, according to Ed McMahon
When Johnny Carson made his debut as the host of The show tonight in 1962, his playful and suggestive jokes became part of his iconic fame. And while not everyone could get away with it, co-host Ed McMahon thought Carson did it because he had “special obscenity license” as a man apparently. healthy from the Midwest.
Ed McMahon: Johnny Carson was a ‘lovable prairie bad boy’
On October 23, 1925, Carson was born in Corning, Iowa. As a child his family moved to Nebraska and there he eventually developed a passion for performing. Her charming talents emerged after she ordered a magic kit in the mail.
During World War II, Carson joined the Navy and narrowly missed combat. But during his time in the service, during which he decoded messages, he would entertain his peers and superiors with magic tricks and comedy. This apparently solidified her love for the stage.
After that, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska. He graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio and Speech with a minor in Physics. Then, he finally moved to New York.
In 1957, he began hosting the game show, Who do you trust? with McMahon. Five years later, they made their debut as the host and co-host of The show tonight.
According to McMahon, Carson got away with some things he didn’t think other characters could have because of his backstory, as stated in his memoir, Here’s Johnny. He dubbed the icon a “lovable prairie bad boy” who always knew “precisely how daring his jokes had to be.”
Johnny Carson’s ‘Special Obscenity License’ Helped Push Boundaries, Says Ed McMahon
As many Carson fans will agree, he had a love and talent for creating absurd comedy. And sometimes the lines between silly and suggestive were a little blurred in his jokes, especially with female guests.
For example, he asked Lucille Ball about her virginity so she would do her classic shocked face of I love Lucy. “I just wanted to see one of those takes again,” he laughed at her after she did. For the record, she could have been in on the joke based on their exchange.
Then there was the moment he remarked that he would give a year’s salary to peek under Dolly Parton’s clothes. Also a fan of suggestive humor, she told him years later that she would donate a year of her own salary to shower with him after she unwittingly glimpsed backstage.
Although he received a few complaints from viewers, McMahon felt that Carson generally got away with such interactions due to his Midwestern charm. After noting in his memoir how much the host “enjoyed sex jokes”, McMahon said he had a “special obscenity license” which he used to perform such on-air antics.
Ed McMahon: “Mere innuendo was enough for a laugh” with Johnny Carson
According to McMahon, Carson did not always need to be explicit with his sexual humor. Sometimes “mere innuendo was enough for laughs”, which seemed to be the desired outcome of somewhat titillating interviews with her guests.
In Here’s Johnny McMahon recalled how Carson joked “any opening he would jump in” while Raquel Welch sat next to him. The punchline was that Welch wore what McMahon described as a revealing blouse. In case there was any doubt, he noted that Carson’s “mischievous smile” revealed the implication of his statement.
But in all honesty, Carson wasn’t just being suggestive with the female guests. He asked offended Kermit the Frog about his love life and somehow flirted with Miss Piggy – in separate interviews, of course.
And although he sometimes received letters of complaint for such jokes, Carson reigned as “king of the end” for 30 years before his retirement in 1992, which was followed by his death in 2005.
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