Political Humor Break

Johnny Carson

Following the sixties, stand-up political comedy entered a fallow period on TV, with satire migrating to sitcoms like All in the Family and M*A*S*H. In late night, however, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson was peppering his monologues with barbs aimed at the high and mighty, with President Nixon and Vice President Agnew—both engulfed in scandals—frequent targets (as demonstrated in the three clips shown here, the first from 1973 and the following two from 1978).

   

Political Humor Break CONTINUES...

For any number of reasons—the lateness of the hour, the huge profitability of The Tonight Show, Carson's age and cool, unthreatening demeanor (Carson never came across as angry)—network television seemed to cut him more slack than it did younger performers. It was during this period that Carson's Tonight began to emerge as a bellwether of the nation's political mood. Not only was it significant that Carson—representative of mainstream America himself—told these jokes; it was equally telling that his audience roared with approval. "In a democracy, simple affirmation of public sentiment can have far-reaching consequences," per writer Tony Hendra. "There's no poll as conclusive as a huge laugh."

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