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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Johnny Carson's humor crossed generation lines

Humorist Will Rogers was the nation's social and political weathervane during the 1920s and 1930s with his talent for puncturing pomposity.

America's love affair with the good-humored Oklahoma cowboy was unabashed and when he died in a plane crash in 1935, the nation knew it had lost something special.

A statue of Mr. Rogers stands in the U.S. Capitol to express the nation's fascination with the man who appeared in more than 70 movies, wrote columns in 350 newspapers, played vaudeville and radio.

If he was a national treasure, Johnny Carson who died at age 79 on Sunday, by comparison, was Fort Knox.

For three decades Mr. Carson made nightly appearances with a fresh "Tonight Show" that distilled the events of the day to the common denominator of healthy laughter.

Rarely was his entertainment crude, but it was often naughty. He relied on talent and personality, not shock tactics, to cultivate and hold his audience's loyalty. Perhaps that is why new generations continue to appreciate his genius in television reruns.

He continued to come into so many living rooms late at night for the same reason Mr. Rogers rode such a wave of popularity.

He, too, could have the epithet, "I never met a man I didn't like."

And people liked him, too.

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