Wednesday, April 13, 2011


For studious types, we MIT students watched a lot of television. There were three mainstays. "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was the British counterpoint to the American "Firesign Theater" - only Firesign made records, while Python had a weekly television show. Then there was "Star Trek" - already in reruns for eight years, but still popular with Trekkers and Trekkies alike.

The final name in our television Trinity was Carson. Whereas Star Trek would come on just before the evening news and just after the awful evening dinner at Walker (or for the more unfortunate West Campus types, Lobdell), Johnny Carson came on just after the late news, at 11:30pm. We had just concluded our prime-time problem sets and we were ready for a break. Carson was our nightcap. He was host of the "Tonight Show" and a television icon in his own right. He was not the first Tonight Show host - Jack Paar had been keeping the chair warm on that Beautiful Downtown Burbank set way back in the early '60s, and Steve Allen before him. But the Tonight Show was identified with Johnny Carson, and it stayed that way even after Carson retired and Jay Leno took over for him in the '90s.

Carson's longtime sidekick was Ed McMahon and his bandleader was Doc Severinsen. Together, they created any number of other regular characters, including Floyd R. Turbo (American). This raises the question, "Kiss my Rapidograph". Or rather, what does any of this have to do with Stickles?
They also created a number of routines that they repeated on a regular basis from show to show. "How ___was it, Johnny?" was one of them. Carson would say something like, "Last night I stayed in a room at the Beverly Wilshire that was so small!" To which Ed and almost the entire audience would respond, "How small was it, Johnny???" Carson would then conclude with, "It was so small, the mice were round-shouldered!" And if the audience response to the joke was something less than Carson hoped for, he'd start explaining it, "Well, you see, if the mice were round-shouldered, then it must have been a really small room." It was a routine that could be done with almost anything. "Yesterday, I completed a problem set on Bessel functions that was really tough!""How tough was it, Johnny??""It was so tough, I filled out a drop card for the course the next day!" Yuk,yuk.

Carson also would appear regularly as Carnac the Magnificent, a magician who could "read" the answers to questions printed inside letters sent to him. He'd hold the envelope to his forehead and pronounce, "William F. Buckley, Pierre of Paris and Noam Chomsky". Then he'd tear open the envelope, pull out a card and read the question, "Name a master debater, a foreign caterer and a cunning linguist".

The final Carson routine was his compendium book. For example, he'd pull out a CRC Manual and start reading from the molecular formulas for different hydrocarbons or cite the molecular weights of different elements. At the end of Carson's exposition, Ed McMahon would chime in with a customary, "You know, Johnny, I'd be willing to bet that your book has every fact known to science! Nothing has been left out! That book has everything in it!!", to which Johnny would respond, "You are wrong, hydrogen-sulfide breath!" and proceed to read off a series of made-up facts that were not included in the CRC Manual.

Anyway, what does this have to do with Stickles? Well, I borrowed some of his material...

No comments:

Post a Comment