I was saddened to learn of the death of Ed McMahon. Younger people probably don’t know much about McMahon, but he was one of the most recognizable TV personalities of my childhood and young adulthood. As the announcer for Johnny Carson, McMahon was the consummate sidekick — he laughed at Carson’s jokes, threw some good-natured barbs at Carson’s many vacations and marriages, played straight man for Carnak and other running shticks, and cheerfully endured familiar jibes about his weight and his drinking. His laugh was legendary and the stuff of easy imitation, and his cries of “Yes!” and “Hey-oh!” became part of the TV lexicon. Of course, his most famous trademark line was “Heeere’s Johnny!”
During the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, people watched The Tonight Show because it was funny — Carson himself was a master, he always booked great comedic talent, and he always brought out the best in his guests — but also because it was so easy to watch. Ed McMahon was a big part of that. His familiar jocularity, his grinning presence on the couch, and his willingness to laugh at even the weakest Carson jokes helped to make the show as comfortable as an old shoe. I’m sure Carson appreciated having McMahon at his side, ready to chuckle and help him to salvage a failed comedy routine. It’s not easy being the second fiddle, but McMahon accepted his role with equanimity and made his own significant contribution to one of the most popular, long-running TV shows ever broadcast. Tonight I’ll hoist a beer in tribute.