23 January 2009

Carnac the Magnificent

On this day in 2005 Johnny Carson crossed over. It always surprised me that when he left The Tonight Show, he really left show business.

Carnac was always my favourite of his characters.

From Wikipedia:
One of Carson's most well known characters, Carnac the Magnificent was a psychic with a large elaborate turban and a plethora of envelopes, all of which (according to Ed McMahon) were "hermetically sealed" and had been kept in "a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls' porch since noon" that day. On the way to his desk after arriving on stage Carnac would invariably trip and fall. (On one memorable occasion, Carson's desk had been replaced with a balsa-wood version and he smashed right through it.)

Carnac's act involved a variation of the magician's billet reading trick: divining the answer to a question putatively written on a card sealed inside one of the envelopes, then opening the envelope to reveal the question. (In many cases, McMahon would repeat the answer after Carnac "divined" it, sometimes resulting in a sneer or other putdown from Carnac.) The resulting jokes were usually either intentionally corny and often involved puns in some way or involved an unexpected question following a seemingly straightforward answer:

Ed McMahon would hand Carnac a series of envelopes, containing questions. Carnac would place each envelope against his forehead and predict the answer, such as "Gatorade." Then he would read the question: "What does an alligator get on welfare?" Some of the jokes were feeble, and McMahon used pauses after terrible puns and audience groans to make light of Carnac's lack of comic success ("Carnac must be used to quiet surroundings"), prompting Carson to return an equal insult. McMahon would always announce near the end, "I hold in my hand the last envelope," at which the audience would applaud wildly, prompting Carnac to pronounce a comedic "curse" on the audience, such as "May your sister elope with a camel!"

(In fact, "Carnac the Magnificent" was the stage name Johnny used in his magic act as a youth.)

Mr. Carson, at our house, we still miss you.

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