Johnny Carson: Convicted Truck Thief
December 14, 2010 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Back in April 1986, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson stole a truck. The owner eventually got it back, but the incident resulted in a messy televised trial that gripped the nation. Then in February 2004, the victim recounted the story to Conan O'Brien.

Scroll about halfway down the page of that last link for the relevant part of the transcript.
O'BRIEN: I remember that you did something with Carson where Carson stole your car.

LETTERMAN: Yeah, that's right.

O'BRIEN: This is something that at the time I couldn't tell how much of this is fact, how much of it is fiction. Can you straighten it out for us?

LETTERMAN: Well, from what you said so far, it's all true. Johnny Carson and I -- I used to live in a part of Malibu. It's called Point Doom, and it's just this beautiful little neighborhood, and it kind of juts out into the Pacific. Now, Johnny Carson lived in the eight million dollar side of town, and I lived in about the hundred thousand dollar side of town, and I had in those days -- and still do -- a 1973 Chevy pickup truck, and the thing that I loved about this truck was it was just beat to hell. There's like a thousand dents, and because of the sea air, all of these dents would rust, and it really got to be quite an eye sore, but the uglier it got the more pride I had in having this pickup truck parked outside of my house. So one day I was a guest on Johnny's show -- you remember Johnny--

(Audience laughs)

O'BRIEN: It's all so vague. I'm 14 years old. This is a clip-on tie.

(Audience laughs)

LETTERMAN: And so, you know, I'm on the Tonight Show telling my little stories and trying to get laughs and dropping my pants and whatever you got to do to get laughs, and so Johnny, I can tell, doesn't really -- he's not paying attention to anything I say. I can see in his eyes that he's waiting to pull the pin on a grenade. He can hardly wait to get to this moment. So finally I wrap up my little skits, my little song and dance, and I'm looking around, and Johnny says, "Why don't you tell me about that piece of junk you've got parked out in front of your house..."
posted by Servo5678 (29 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Point Dume.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:31 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, wow, I had totally forgotten about this (I was in junior high, after all, but I used to watch Letterman whenever possible...he was kind of the hip/edgy guy, if such a thing is possible to imagine now).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Carson > Letterman
posted by unSane at 7:49 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is golden. Thanks for sharing.
posted by deezil at 7:54 PM on December 14, 2010


Yeah, I feel a bit uncomfortable watching Dave in that. He must of been *pissed*. You don't get the feeling that he's a guy who takes a practical joke well.

That said, I'm glad he won the $24.95 in the end. Wopner was a GREAT touch.
posted by maryr at 7:58 PM on December 14, 2010


This is so sweet and great. This could NEVER happen today - the timing, the video, the pace, everything - so 1986 and so perfect!
posted by tristeza at 8:02 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, Letterman used to have a pulse.
posted by Omon Ra at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like seeing Letterman be the Larry Bud Melman. He's funnier when his ego is forced into a lower orbit.
posted by dgaicun at 8:14 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's not a day goes by I don't miss Johnny.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Steve Allen... Jack Parr... Johnny Carson... sigh

I miss Johnny... he helmed the Tonight show for 3 decades... from the days that I was in Jr. High, until the days that I was the parent of a 20 year old...

His humor was classic...his timing perfect....he made it worth staying up late...

thanks for this...
posted by HuronBob at 8:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember that. It was great at the time, too.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:44 PM on December 14, 2010


You know, whatever the complaints about Letterman, and there have been many, he's really busted his ass and he still doesn't phone it in. Of late, he has one big guest on and keeps that guest on for a long time in today's TV world. Its like he's channeling Cavett or something. He gives them the time to do more than just plug the clip and get out of there. The more talented will run a bit. Leno--he's really toeing close to an imaginary middle America line that doesn't really fit him. I read a long piece in the New Yorker a few weeks back, and people forget that Carson was a big experiment and took in way farther than Parr had. What happened was that the world came to Carson and he became the new middle of the road. And Letterman is still way more edgy in that way than Leno ever was--even if Letterman isn't as far out there as he used to be. Leno was flat out a comedian in a way that Letterman never was. Letterman is still a TV personality in the way Johnny was and it shows. He is better with guests than the rest of them. And that's still what the talk show is all about.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:58 PM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


I like seeing Letterman be the Larry Bud Melman. He's funnier when his ego is forced into a lower orbit.

The classic of that was Sandra Bernhart. She'd come on and hit on him relentlessly and you knew Dave was both attracted and scared shitless. But the best take that and run with it and he kept inviting her on. Plus he would always have on super guests the world did not know about--Fran Leibowitz comes to mind--so far ahead of their time. Brother Theodore was another nut. And there was no doubt he had Oliver Reed on because he knew Reed would be drunk--and Andy Kaufmann--people don't realize the guy wasn't really working anymore--just doing the funniest stuff--but not on TV sitcoms or anything. Letterman would always have him on--leading to the all-time classic with Jerry Lawler. I saw that the day it came out--I was blown away--totally blown away--who the hell was doing that--ever? Awesome TV.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's what I liked about early Dave too Ironmouth. Don't forget the late great Harvey Pekar. He'd go after Dave in a 'seriously not kidding' way. Dave, tried to treat him like a buffoon and Harvey never gave an inch. But damn if a few months later he'd be invited back.
posted by Bonzai at 9:56 PM on December 14, 2010


I hope Letterman framed that $25.
posted by blueberry at 11:09 PM on December 14, 2010


GE Handshake FTW BTW.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:56 PM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ahh, the beginning of Dave's long running battle against GE's corporate cluelessness. Those were the days. I think that's what changed with him. After he left for CBS, he couldn't be subversive anymore, as CBS pretty much gave him carte blanche. Sure he made fun of them, but you never got the sense that CBS loathed him for it the way GE did.
posted by KingEdRa at 12:29 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


This was a blast. I still remember watching this when it originally aired. Hilarious - thank you very much for sharing this. :)
posted by Davenhill at 12:53 AM on December 15, 2010


It's interesting that Leno's ratings this fall have been pretty consistently lower than what Conan was getting last fall, ratings that led NBC to give Conan the boot. Perhaps they'll give Jimmy Fallon the Tonight Show in a few months?
posted by i_have_a_computer at 12:56 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Perhaps they'll give Jimmy Fallon the Tonight Show in a few months?

And then they can give it back to Leno in a year.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:35 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I miss Johnny Carson immensely.
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo at 4:51 AM on December 15, 2010


one of the beautiful things about Johnny Carson is that he always let his guests be funny. Notice he just remains quiet and in the background as Letterman hams it up with Wapner. No need to interject his ego for no reason. Conan and Leno can learn a very important lesson from that.

Just to chime in on Dave's GE battles - I think it documents one of the most important turning points in American media history. Up until that point a company of that size and scope did not own any major American broadcasting services and I think Letterman in his own passive, creative way was showing America the hypocrisy and folly of allowing a corporation with such varied conflicts of interest such massive power to control American thought. Letterman was more than a talk show host, he was a harbinger and to my memory the only broadcaster to openly disdain the progression. It no doubt cost him the Tonight show and all the cowards that followed him have been nothing more than lapdogs.
posted by any major dude at 5:29 AM on December 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Carson was the master. Period. Add me to the list of those who miss him hugely.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:10 AM on December 15, 2010


Johnny Carson was fantastic. I loved him so much as a child, I used to tell people my name was Johnny Carson. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Silvertree at 6:15 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, whatever the complaints about Letterman, and there have been many, he's really busted his ass and he still doesn't phone it in.

You and I must not be watching the same Dave Letterman.
posted by blucevalo at 7:30 AM on December 15, 2010


Dave was pretty edgy back in the day. Mostly because there was nowhere near as much edge back then.

Nowdays, if Dave came out and dropped trou and took a dump on stage people would accuse him of copying a two year old youtube clip.
posted by srboisvert at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had a huge crush on Carson when I was a young girl. Such a sweet, smart, self-effacing man. I really enjoyed the bits when he had animals on.

The most bizarre thing I ever saw on Letterman was the Crispin Glover episode. Go to commercial, and nothing more was ever said about crazy, threatening Cripin Glover, like it never happened.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:02 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am from England and what is this
posted by radioedit at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2010


I can't recommend Craig Ferguson enough as an antidote to the bloodlessness of current late night tv. Just the fact that nothing, not even the monologue, is scripted makes it incredibly interesting. Even Conan, who can be very entertaining with his skits, becomes wooden and dead when he gets to the pre-scripted interview with the guest (a stilted affair often preceded by the stock phrase 'so much to talk about').
posted by Omon Ra at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


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