Tag Archives: Comedy


23 Oct

A photo personally autographed to this writer by Johnny Carson in the 1970s.

86 years ago today, on Friday, October 23, 1925, a woman named Ruth Carson gave birth to a son in Corning, Iowa… but Johnny was on vacation, so Ruth gave birth to Joey Bishop!

I couldn’t resist. That joke has been around for decades.

The house in Corning, Iowa where Johnny Carson was born on October 23, 1925.

But truly, the “King of Late Night,” was born on this date in this house, in 1925. John William Carson was born to Homer and Ruth Carson, and he would go on to leave a gigantic imprint on the world of television.

Although born in Corning Johnny didn’t stay there long. Due to Homer’s job with a utility company the Carson family moved quite a bit. After relocating to several western Iowa towns, the Carsons eventually settled in Norfolk, Nebraska. It was in this classic version of small-town America that Johnny began performing. And it was in this home that Johnny grew up.

The house in Norfolk, Nebraska where Johnny Carson grew up.

After learning magic young Johnny appeared around town as The Great Carsoni and built the foundation for his career.

Johnny Carson clowns around with his mentor and boss, Red Skelton.

Years later, his first big break came as a writer for Red Skelton. When Skelton got hurt during a rehearsal Carson went on in his place. CBS executives took note and soon Carson was host of “The Johnny Carson Show.”

By the late 1950s Johnny was based in New York and hosting a game show. The show was originally called “Do You Trust Your Wife?” but later became “Who Do You Trust?

Tickets to see "Do You Trust Your Wife?" and “Who Do You Trust?”

As you all know, Johnny Carson went on to host “The Tonight Show” from 1962 to 1992. In his almost 30 years at the helm Carson turned “The Tonight Show” into an institution. It became a nightly “must-see” for many and Johnny Carson himself became a barometer of public opinion.

Offices for "The Tonight Show" at NBC Burbank, 1979.

Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 and pretty much retired from public life. He died on January 23, 2005 after a long battle with emphysema.

Johnny Carson became one of television’s biggest stars ever, but he never forgot his hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. Carson donated nearly $5-million to various causes in Norfolk and the people there returned his love. So if you stop in at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, be sure to see the Johnny Carson Gallery there.

Entrance to the Johnny Carson Gallery.

Johnny Carson was born 86 years ago on this date in TV history.


Photos from Corning, Iowa and Norfolk, Nebraska ©Richard DiGangi


14 Aug

66 years ago today, on Tuesday, August 14, 1945 actor/writer/producer/comedian Steve Martin was born in Waco, Texas.

Steve Martin autograph signed on October 23, 1976

He began performing while still in his teens and by the time he was 22 he was writing comedy for network TV shows. Between 1967 and 1973 Steve Martin worked as a writer on half a dozen comedy variety series including “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Summer Brothers Smothers Show,” “Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” “The Ken Berry ‘Wow’ Show,” and “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” He was also a featured performer on several of those shows, as well as on “The Ray Stevens Show” in the summer of 1970.

I still remember the first time I saw Steve Martin on TV. It was on NBC on a Saturday night at 11:30pm, but I wasn’t watching “Saturday Night Live.” In fact, that show hadn’t even been created yet. I was watching the program that “SNL” replaced: reruns of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

It was that first appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” in 1973 that brought Martin some national attention. His first appearance as host of “Saturday Night Live” in 1976 sealed the deal and made him a comedy “rock star.” I was in the audience for that show. In fact, I got his autograph earlier that day, on the back of my admission slip for the PSAT exam.

What's on the other side of Steve Martin's autograph? The date on my admission slip for the PSAT exam, which was administered that morning.

So, while many people were introduced to Steve Martin on October 23, 1976, I was already a fan.

But in addition to lots of laughs, I also remember a very touching moment provided by Steve Martin on the day Gilda Radner died (May 20, 1989). Martin was hosting “Saturday Night Live” that night and I was in the audience. When he introduced a clip of he and Gilda dancing in an old sketch it was quite moving. Martin, and most of the audience, seemed to be holding in some emotions.

Although Martin has never starred in his own series his career is a product of TV. From his roots as a writer… to his TV specials and guest appearances… to his hosting the Academy Awards broadcast… Steve Martin is a TV star.

He has now hosted “Saturday Night Live” a record 15 times (tied with Alec Baldwin) and prior to abandoning standup he starred in four network comedy specials for NBC: “Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy” in 1978, “Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty” and “All Commercials–A Steve Martin Special” both in 1980, and 1981’s “Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever.”

Happy Birthday to Steve Martin, the TV star (and movie star, playwright, musician, novelist, and art collector). Thanks for everything.


18 Jul

‎98 years ago today, on Friday, July 18, 1913 comic actor Red Skelton was born in Indiana.

Red Skelton's star for TV on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And since my parents’ first date was to a Red Skelton movie (circa 1944), I may owe my life to him.

Red Skelton, with his one-time writer Johnny Carson.

“Goodnight and may God bless.”


20 Mar

89 years ago, on Monday, March 20, 1922, actor/comedian Ray Goulding was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. Though he is best-known for his work in radio, Goulding (with comedy partner Bob Elliott) starred in several TV specials and series.

Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM) in December 1974.

Ray Goulding started his career as an announcer on WLLH radio in Lowell around 1939, and then moved to WEEI in Boston just a year later. After serving in World War II, Goulding was hired to read the news for a morning show hosted by Bob Elliott on WHDH in Boston. That fateful pairing would result in a 15 minute radio show called “Matinee with Bob and Ray” and eventually their partnership as the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding in the studios of WOR (AM), December 1974.

Their television careers began on Monday November 26, 1951 when “Bob & Ray” (or “The Bob and Ray Show”) premiered on NBC.  Joining them in sketches and spoofs in this 15 minute program was Audrey Meadows. She was replaced by Cloris Leachman, who was then replaced by Audrey Meadows. The show lasted two years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob & Ray on three separate occasions.

The first time was in December 1974 in the studios of WOR radio. The comedy legends were nice enough to agree to be interviewed by 3 junior high school students. I was one of them. If you look closely we’re wearing “Wally Ballou for Mayor” buttons given to us that day by Bob & Ray.

Bob & Ray in their WOR radio studio, December 1974, joined by students Sami Kenigsberg, Paul Messina, and Jerry Seigerman.

The second time we met was in 1979. The photos we took in 1974 gained us access to Bob & Ray’s dressing room after their masterful performance in the NBC late night comedy special “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda.” That’s when Bob & Ray were kind enough to autograph these photos.

From Approximately Coast to Coast… It’s The Bob and Ray Show published by Atheneum in 1983.

The third, and last, time I met Bob & Ray was in 1983 when they came up to WPIX-TV to be interviewed about their newest book; From Approximately Coast to Coast… It’s The Bob and Ray Show. I was working at the station at the time and made sure I bought a copy of their book beforehand so I could get another set of autographs. (And yes, I showed them the photos from 1974 to let them know we’d met before).

Autographs in the book: “To Paul – Cheers! Bob Elliott” and “To Paul, All the Best, Ray Goulding”

Rarely does one find geniuses to be so gracious and courteous.

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984. “The Bob and Ray Show” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

Ray Goulding died of kidney failure in 1990. He was 68. Bob Elliott is alive and well and living on Long Island. He will turn 88 next week. But today we honor Ray Goulding for bringing laughter to my world and the world of television.


22 Jan

43 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 22, 1968 “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” premiered on NBC and it was unlike anything on TV at the time. Most noticeably, the pace of the show was fast and frenetic. TV’s early comedy/variety shows had been rooted in vaudeville and had a more stage-bound presentation. With Executive Producer George Schlatter and comedy duo Dan Rowan and Dick Martin at its helm, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” became a classic.

This LP, featuring audio of sketches from the show, was released later in 1968.

This crazy, hip comedy show replaced “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on NBC’s schedule, and although it was a mid-season replacement it garnered big enough ratings to finish the season ranked 21st in the Nielsen ratings. It would become the number 1 show for the following two seasons, before dropping out if the top 10 for good. By May 1973 “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” was off the air. And you can “look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.”

It left America with plenty of catchphrases like; “You bet your bippy,” “sock it to me,” “verrrrrrry interesting,” and “look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.” It also made a star out of Goldie Hawn.

43 years ago “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” shot into America’s consciousness like a rocket and then burned out a little more than 5 years later. Say Goodnight Dick.

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