Carson’s Famous Pencils
It was around my tenth Tonight Show appearance and I was at the point of being totally comfortable walking out on that iconic set and doing my act, as comfortable as one could be, that is, with Johnny Carson sitting fifteen feet away.
One of the routines I had prepared for that show involved the idea that they could have TV dinners designed after specific shows. One of them could be, I brazenly chirped, a “Tonight Show TV dinner: you open it up and there’s a substitute entree!” I was alluding to the fact, of course, that Johnny so often took a night off for a guest host. And I felt at home enough to risk doing that joke.
The audience howled, especially because I was dishing it to Johnny with him sitting right there, and the laugh was explosive. I looked over and saw Johnny laughing, along with Ed McMahon, and as I turned back to the camera, I felt something hit my right shoulder. And then boom, another object hit me! I looked around, then down on the floor, and I saw two of Johnny Carson’s pencils, the ones with an eraser on both ends which he used to fiddle with at his desk, lying on the ground. He had thrown them at me after I did the joke and both hit their mark! I picked them up and looked over, and he was doubled over laughing. I put the pencils in my coat pocket, and once the crowd simmered down I completed my set.
I didn’t get to sit on the couch that night as they ran late, but afterward Johnny saw me in the hallway and congratulated me on a funny spot. He didn’t ask for his pencils back, and I still have them, tucked away in a bank safe deposit box.
It was a magic moment from a magic day in a magic era for me, and I’m glad I still have those pencils that helped me bond with Johnny Carson, the greatest host in history.