The Johnny Carson Channel

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Johnny Carson (Photo courtesy of NBC)

I have a guilty pleasure.

Recently, I’ve begun listening to the “Johnny Carson Channel” on SIRIUS/XM (channel 105). Like a ghost from the past, I heard Ed McMahon’s voice shouting over the drumroll, “Heeeerrrrree’s Johnny,” followed by that iconic music, and I was hooked. It immediately transported me back to that era when Johnny was the real King of Comedy.

Listening to those old Tonight Shows brought me right back to 1978, when I made a trip to the West Coast with my friend Bruce and my cousin Sal. During our travels, we scored tickets to The Tonight Show and, while in the audience, interrupted a monologue joke that caused him to stop and make a joke about us.Let me set the scene for you…

Unlike today where tickets for TV shows are available online, back then, you had to wait on a line to get your complimentary tickets. Unfortunately, having tickets did not necessarily guarantee admittance to the show. First, they brought in the VIPs and sponsor guests, then the common folk with complimentary tickets waiting on the line. Once the studio was filled, you were out of luck.

On our first attempt, we waited on a long box office line, which apparently had been forming since 1 a.m., but only Sal got a ticket, which he never got to use since Bruce and I didn’t get one. Instead, we decided to try again when we came back to L.A. at the end of our trip.

We slept out on the box office line starting at midnight and scored tickets for all of us this time. After being guided to another line, we remained there until 5 p.m., when they started loading the audience for the show taping.

Along with all the other maniacs on the line, we shared pizza, sandwiches and plenty of adult beverages during our more than eight-hour wait. When it finally came time to bring in the audience, we were close enough to get into the studio.

The studio was much smaller than you picture it on TV with seats for about 250 people. Placed in the upper mezzanine, we made a pact. If anyone mentioned “New York,” we would yell and cheer, just like everyone does when their hometown gets mentioned.

Doc Severinsen, filling in for Ed McMahon, came out in his wild sport jacket and took the microphone to say, “Heeeerrrrree’s Johnny!” Johnny Carson then popped out from behind the curtain, and we were right there to see it in person, jumping and cheering with the rest of the audience. Beginning his monologue, Carson told a few clunkers but then segued into a story about the newspaper strike in New York. As soon as he said the magic words, we popped out of our seats and began yelling at the top of our lungs. Unfortunately, we were the only audience members doing that.

We startled the King, and he stopped to look directly up to where we were sitting. Like the pro he was, he waited for the audience to stop laughing and deadpanned, “Obviously some non-readers from New York.”The audience exploded with laughter at the improvised line, and he continued with the rest of his monologue.

Just then, the largest human being I have ever encountered, wearing an NBC Security blazer, came up to us and said softly, “If you make one more outburst like that, you’re out of here…” Not wanting to risk life or injury, we were good soldiers for the rest of the show. We made our mark in history, I guess, and are immortalized with a joke by Johnny Carson, explicitly directed to us.

I guess I should keep listening to the new Johnny Carson Channel. After all, someday I might catch that show from August of 1978 and hear him making fun of some non-readers from New York.

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