I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson died one year ago today. I wrote the following post the day after he died for my previous blog and I thought today would be a good time to revive the post as a way to remember him:


January 24, 2005

My Mom often recounts a story from my early years—the days when I was just learning how to talk. Dad worked nights, and when Mom tucked me into bed each night, I asked her if she would turn on Johnny Car-Car.

My parents divorced when I was eight. So, I'm guessing that during my early years, things weren't the greatest between them. I don't really remember butchering Johnny Carson's name, but I do remember Mom flipping the television on, sitting down on my bed, and gently rocking me to sleep while she laughed. During what had to be an extremely difficult time in Mom's life, she did what good mothers do. She took care of my younger sister and I and she pressed on.

One of the ways she found to press on was through laughter. And she laughed a lot while watching Johnny Carson. While I'm sure that I was too young to understand Johnny's jokes, listening to my Mom laugh created a sense of safety and brought warmth to my soul.

We watched less of Johnny Carson after I started going to school, but we still watched him on Friday nights and the older I got, the more I understood why Mom laughed while watching him. He looked at life through the lens of humor—even and especially the serious aspects of life. He got away with it because he didn't gloss over his personal failures. Instead he used them as a backdrop for telling his jokes.

When he told a joke about the difficulties of marriage, he gave us one of those "believe-me-I've-been-there-before" looks and we knew that he had. His willingness to be genuine created an inseparable bond between us.

We saw his humbleness as he gave unknown comics, actors, writers, and many other people a shot at entertaining the nation for a night. We saw his connection with us when he invited non-celebrities to talk about the real things of life. We saw his tears as he said good-bye on that night in May of 1992.

Johnny Carson's show wasn't an escape from reality for a generation, like too much of entertainment is today in our generation. Instead it was about enduring reality by laughing, talking, and sometimes crying about it.

Carson didn't stop there though. I live in Nebraska, not far from where he grew up. Over the years since he walked away from television and faded out of public view, he sent millions of dollars into Nebraska for education, cancer facilities, and probably many other things. Even though he no longer appeared on television every night, he still believed that if you give the average Joe a chance to shine, he just might.

For all of these reasons, and countless more, there's a small tear in my eye this morning knowing that Carson has told his last joke. But, as is the case with all of us, his legacy will speak about who he was for generations to come. And even his legacy will help us endure the rough spots of life.


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