Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Johnny Carson, the Rolling Stone Interview, March 1979

Johnny Carson on the cover of Rolling Stone, March 22, 1979. This is the best quality image I could find of the cover.

Johnny looking sharp in a 1970's ad for Johnny Carson Apparel.
Along with Johnny Carson’s 1967 interview with Alex Haley for Playboy, Carson’s 1979 interview for Rolling Stone was one of the most revealing he ever gave. Timothy White interviewed Carson for the March 22, 1979 issue, and while it doesn’t touch on as many social issues as Carson’s Playboy interview, it is quite illuminating about Carson’s personality. You can read the whole 20,000 word interview online here.

White attempted to get to the bottom of Carson's appeal, asking him "Why do you think people feel so comfortable with you?"

Carson responded: “I can't analyze that. I really can't. I just do what I do. People ask me, ‘How do you analyze that you've stayed on 17 years and the competition has dropped off?’ See, either way you answer that, you end up sounding like a schmuck. If you say, ‘Well, obviously I do a much better job than they do,’ or say, ‘I'm more talented,’ then people say, ‘You egotistical bastard!’ If, on the other hand, you play Harry Humble and say, ‘Gee, I don't know,’ then that sounds idiotic, too. So no matter what you say, people say, ‘Aw, come on now.’ I don't try to shoot for an average audience. I do the things I like to do, and I think I've learned what people will accept from me. That's just an intuitive thing.”

Carson bluntly summed up the contradiction between his public and private persona by saying, “I'm an extrovert when I work. I'm an introvert when I don't.” That might be the best distillation of any of the attempts made by writers to analyze Carson’s personality.

In Rolling Stone Carson expressed his annoyance with the ignorance of the American public, saying:

“I read a survey last week, and it said that a large percentage of the American public had not read a book since they got out of high school. They read magazines, periodicals, but not a book. To read about what Bianca Jagger is doing is not high on my list of priorities. I could not give a shit what Bianca Jagger is doing, or what Jackie O is doing, but those are the people you constantly read about.”

Carson also revealed that the reason The Tonight Show moved from New York City to Los Angeles was actually pretty simple: 

“I lived in New York 17 years; I like the idea, as corny as it sounds, of a yard and a house. Maybe that's the old Midwestern values, but I like being able to walk outside in the morning and sit around; you can't do that in New York. That's the only reason.”

There are other interesting parts to Carson’s Rolling Stone interview, and it’s an essential read for anyone interested in the complex personality of Johnny Carson.

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