Chasing the gold standard

“Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.”

– Johnny Carson

Insomniacs everywhere are waiting for the next incarnation of “The Tonight Show.” Thursday night was Jay Leno’s last show after taking over for the late Johnny Carson 22 years ago. Leno held the late-night ratings lead, but the show never had the luster of the Carson era.

The new version of the show, starring Jimmy Fallon, will debut on Feb. 17. Fallon will take the show back to its roots in New York City. It debuted there with Steve Allen as the first host in 1954.

Controversial Jack Paar hosted the show from 1957 until he walked out in 1962. Then Carson began a 30-year reign, retiring in 1992.

Carson made “The Tonight Show” an institution. Night after night, his skits, quick wit and political jokes were the staple of the next day’s chatter at the office. The biggest stars jockeyed to be on the show because he always made them look good.

He was so sharp and funny even the dullest guest looked like the life of the party.

The cast of characters he portrayed – advice columnist Aunt Blabby, used car salesman Art Fern and seer Carnac the Magnificent – could make you groan with a string of bad jokes, but Carson’s faces and good-natured insults for the audience saved every skit.

We remember a Carnac skit when the great one revealed the answer to a question sealed in an envelope.

The answer was, “Sis boom bah.”

The question in the envelope? “What are the last three things you hear when your sheep blows up?”

In our minds, Fallon will have to go hard to match the gold standard, Carson. It will be fun to watch him try.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.