Johnny Carson was universally beloved for many reasons, one being that he intentionally avoided alienating his viewers by jumping into the fraught waters of politics during his years on the Tonight Show.
Unlike Carson, today’s nighttime talk show hosts feel it’s their job to inject their political views into monologues and interviews, despite knowing it costs them not only their reputations as good hosts but audience ratings as well.
Carson was asked in a “60 Minutes” interview with Mike Wallace about his thoughts on people who criticized him for never taking on a serious controversy. Carson had a very clear and simple answer.
Never getting political
Johnny Carson hosted “The Tonight Show” through the decades of the Vietnam conflict and Watergate scandal, yet he kept his opinions to himself.
“Tell me the last time that Jack Benny, Red Skelton…any comedian…used his show to do serious issues,” Carson began. “That’s not what I’m there for. Can’t they see that?”
“Why do they think that just because you have a Tonight Show you must deal in serious issues,” he continued.
“That’s a danger. It’s a real danger,” Carson warned.
The king of late night, who inspired and influenced so many of the current class of hosts, calls out the rampant self-importance we see in late night today, especially with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert.
“Once you start that, you start to get that self-important feeling that what you say has great import. And, you know, strangely enough, you could use that show as a forum to sway people. And I don’t think you should as an entertainer.”
It would certainly be a novelty in this day and age to have a show that just focused on entertainment rather than a platform to push a host’s personal political preferences. Based on his comments, one can imagine Carson would not be a fan of many of the late night hosts that have succeeded him.