Thursday, January 27, 2005

Johnny Carson's race problem.

http://www.panopticist.com/archives/12.html

Two Johnny Carson Clips You Won't See on CNN This Week

The six-minute video linked at the end of this post contains two compelling and somewhat disturbing Tonight Show clips from the mid-'70s. The video is from an episode of the superb Manhattan public-access program Media Shower, a clip show that was on the air from 1997 until 2000. The Tonight Show clips are introduced by Media Shower's host and creator, Jamie Greenberg, a New York comedy writer and performer.

What's special about these two clips? Well, let's just say that they wouldn't win Johnny Carson any racial sensitivity awards. At the very least, they show that Carson was capable of egregious lapses in judgment. I don't have any reason to think these clips reveal something dark about Carson himself, but they do reveal a lot about the sort of race-oriented humor that was acceptable on television even in the late 1970s.

In the first clip, an apparently unscripted incident from 1977, a mock-angry Carson gets up from his desk and walks down the hall to confront Don Rickles, who is taping an episode of the sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey in an adjacent studio. After a few seconds, Carson points at a black cast member and shouts, "Hey, a black man! Yo, black man! How's it goin' there, daddy?" Carson walks over to the actor and gives him five. And then he walks back over to Rickles and says something incredibly shocking. You may not catch it the first time, but Jamie comes on after the clips and explains what to listen for, and then he shows that part of the clip again.

Hey! A black man!

The second clip is from 1976 and features a jive-talking Carson in blackface—or, to be more accurate, half-blackface. Johnny Carson! In blackface! In 1976! As Jamie says in his setup, "Kind of shocking that this was still airing in 1976 on The Tonight Show."

Hey dere, mamma!

You can learn more about Media Shower in this piece I wrote for The Village Voice in 2000. The very rudimentary Media Shower website is, much to my surprise, still online, four years after the show went off the air. Jamie Greenberg's email address is on that site, in case you'd like to reach him.

Thanks to Daniel Radosh for nudging me to get this video online. Here is Daniel's take on these clips.

Here's the video in Quicktime format. I wanted to put it online in MPEG format but couldn't find a program for OS X that would do the conversion. If someone wants to do a conversion and send it to me, or point me to a place I can download it from, I'll put it online...


3 Comments:

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3:56 AM  
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4:51 AM  

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