Getting The Axe

Today I took a different route home and discovered that Columbus has a places where you can throw axes: Dueling Axes, in Fourth Street. And since Dueling Axes describes itself as Columbus’ premier axe-throwing venue, I’m guessing that means there’s at least one other, perhaps more low rent place in town where you can hurl axes and let off steam.

When did axe throwing become a thing? Is it really BYOB, as the sidewalk sign indicates? Does Ed Ames* know about this? And who decided that an axe-throwing location should be called a “venue,” anyway?

* Vintage Johnny Carson Tonight Show reference

Searching For Snippets

Lately I’ve spent a bit of time in front of the computer at home, on the YouTube website.  I’ve been looking for some funny highlights from TV shows that are now decades old.  You might call it searching for snippets.

My initial goal was to find the “Sis Boom Bah” moment from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  Featuring the redoubtable Carnak the Magnificent, in what I always thought was one of the best continuing skits on the show, it is arguably one of the funniest single moments on what was a consistently funny show.  (You could argue about other Tonight Show moments, like the Ed Ames tomahawk-throwing incident, but I digress.)  Sure enough, I found the entire Sis Boom Bah Carnak sketch on YouTube, and I’ve put it above in all of its early ’80s, totally un-PC glory at the top of its post.  The Sis Boom Bah moment is still hilarious.

There’s comedy gold to be found just about everywhere on YouTube, but you have to work to find it.  In that sense, it’s a lot more interactive than just watching TV and letting the cathode rays wash over you.   Let’s say that you thought the “Norm!” one-liners from Cheers were consistently funny, as I do, and just wanted to check out a few of them.  A few deft searches, and voila!   One example of what I found, with some of Norm’s choicest rejoinders, is below.  And whether it’s great moments from Seinfeld, or the title introduction to Hogan’s Heroes, or a favorite scene from The Dick Van Dyke Show, you can probably find it on YouTube.

 

Letterman’s Retirement

David Letterman has announced that he will be retiring next year. He’s been the star of The Late Show With David Letterman for 21 years.

It’s interesting that Letterman’s retirement announcement came shortly after Jay Leno — Letterman’s chief rival for recognition as the successor to Johnny Carson as the King of Late-Night Television — retired. Letterman is another TV icon whose “top ten list” became part of the national zeitgeist. But I long ago stopped watching either Letterman or Leno, and I can’t remember the last time either of them had something significant or novel to say or do about America or the world. For years, they seemed to be living on past glory, attracting the habitual viewers who had watched them for years but not bringing in anyone new. Their shticks got old. People who were comfortable with them stuck around; people who were looking for something different looked elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see whether the late-night talk show format ends up passing into TV history, just as Jay Leno has done and as David Letterman will be doing next year. As I’ve noted before, it’s amazing that talk shows — a format that began at the dawn of TV, more than 60 years ago — are still around. If you’ve seen the commercial where a guy walks out of his kitchen eating a bowl of cereal or ice cream and finds himself on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, you’ve seen that talk shows are to the point of self-parody. Maybe Fallon’s spoofing of himself is supposed to be one of those new, ironic bits of humor that 50-somethings like me don’t get, but I see that commercial as an implicit recognition that late-night talk shows are trite and banal.

I wish David Letterman the best in his retirement, but maybe his decision to hit the road will allow the networks to finally come up with a new approach to late-night programming.

The Twilight Of Talk Shows

Last week Jay Leno stopped hosting The Tonight Show. I was amazed to see that he had been the host of that venerable show for 22 years. That means it’s been 22 years since I last watched The Tonight Show.

I’ve got nothing against Leno, who could capably tell a joke and mug for the camera. He’ll be replaced by the smug Jimmy Fallon, whose claimed talents have always been lost on me, and I won’t watch the show then, either. It’s just that the talk show concept seems so trite and formulaic, it takes a gigantic talent and iconic figure like Johnny Carson to make it watchable. None of the current crop of hosts even comes close — which means the appeal of late-night talk shows is strictly limited to insomniacs.

At the dawn of TV, the staples of programming were westerns, variety shows, news documentaries, and talk shows. The Tonight Show, for example, started in 1954 with Steve Allen as its host. Sixty years later, the westerns and variety shows and documentaries are gone from the airwaves, but the talk shows remain.

In 60 years, the creaky format of talk shows hasn’t changed much, either. We’ve seen Jack Parr, Carson, Joey Bishop, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and countless others I’ve long since forgotten sitting behind their desks and coffee cups, with some phony backdrop behind them. There’s a monologue, a skit or parody, and some banter with the band leader or sidekick, and then the guests come out — a film star pitching her movie, a new comedian trying to hit the big time, and perhaps a political figure or quirky character who won a yodeling contest or collects rocks that look like U.S. Presidents. A few rote questions, some banal conversation, and its time to move down the couch and bring on the next guest.

Why are talk shows still on their air? Do people find some comfort in the familiar format? Why is a vintage concept that began decades before the internet, CDs, streaming video, and Netflix still around, when everything else about our popular culture has changed so dramatically?

Classic Carson

I read Bob’s post on Johnny Carson and wholeheartedly agree that Johnny Carson was definitely the king of late night television. I  was a huge fan and would watch every night. While reading Bob’s post I was reminded of two skits that Johnny did that I always thought were very funny and I was able to find them on YouTube. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did and still do.

The first is Johnny Carson playing a Congressman accused of making false statements to the media. As the Congressman he has decided to do a press conference while hooked up to a lie detector machine.

The second is Johnny Carson playing Aunt Blabby, one of his continuous characters. The thing I like about this clip is the way that he and his co-host Ed McMahon could play off of one another and sometimes make the audience laugh even when the material they had to work with wasn’t all that funny. 

The Tonight Show, Carson, and Conan

I heartily agree with Richard’s post on CoCo and The Tonight Show.

I think Jay Leno is pretty much unfunny.  He was a lame successor to Johnny Carson, and I think when he took over The Tonight Show he tarnished the brand of that show.  It used to be “must see” TV for anyone staying up after 11:30 on a weeknight.  You would watch Carson’s monologue, see who he had on as guests that night, and probably stay tuned until at least midnight.

Carson was one of the five most classic TV personalities of all time.  Indeed, he was one of the few TV figures of my youth who probably would still be tremendously popular today.  Unlike many of the stars of the early days of television, Carson was not active, but reactive.  He might occasionally get a pie in the face, but for the most part Carson’s humor was laid back and responsive.  The great laughs on The Tonight Show were typically due to Carson’s priceless reactions to a bad monologue joke, to a bird perching on his head and taking a dump, to Ed Ames inadvertently hurling a tomahawk into some outlined figure’s crotch, or to George Gobel unwittingly getting ashes flicked into his drink by a lubed-up Dean Martin.

Leno is different.  He is more like a vaudeville comic who mugs for the camera.  He doesn’t have the sly, sardonic reactions that made Carson so well-suited to the TV medium.  Conan O’Brien, in contrast, does have that quality.  He is comfortable behind the host’s desk, and is willing to let his guest be funny or interesting, without intruding.  Conan is a “cool” figure, is great at reaction, and clearly is more consistently funny than Leno.

I’m not surprised that Leno’s prime time show was a dismal failure, and I think it is criminal that NBC is going to push The Tonight Show back to give Leno some late-night time.  I say:  “I’m with CoCo!  Give him a chance!”