Heyyyyy, a black man!!!
January 25, 2005 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Two Johnny Carson Clips You Won't See on CNN This Week I remember seeing this (the first one) when it happened. But I must confess I missed the phrase "hang him." (via google video search Radosh.net)
posted by soyjoy (103 comments total)
Red Skelton used to do blackface routines around the same time... (Not to be confused with Redd Foxx whose show was a type of racism all it's own...)
posted by Balisong at 3:00 PM on January 25, 2005

Er, I guess I meant just before Carson's time...
posted by Balisong at 3:04 PM on January 25, 2005

Dunno, it sounds like he's saying (and gesturing to the black actor) "hang in" like stick with it?

I'm perfectly able to accept him saying "hang him" but my ears don't totally hear it.
posted by Peter H at 3:06 PM on January 25, 2005

Length: 5,187,924 [video/quicktime]
 1% [                                     ] 97,412       459.11B/s  ETA 3:04:47
Looks like the link is swamped already. Jesus.
posted by neckro23 at 3:07 PM on January 25, 2005

Unable to open the link, another link I can try veiwing?
posted by thomcatspike at 3:09 PM on January 25, 2005

Different times have different standards. In 20 years, we'll look back on some of the things we do for entertainment now and be amazed at how backwards we were. I can cut Carson some slack on these.

Also, like Peter H, I don't hear "hang him." I hear "hang in" which might be a hard to hear "hang in there," which would have been an appropriate 1970's thing.

Also, also, "CPO Sharkey" was awful.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:11 PM on January 25, 2005

Yeah... I mean, that was the '70s, unfortunately. It wasn't all just Shaft and Saturday Night Fever. I'm sure all the guys of that generation have similar unfortunate stuff in their histories.
posted by josh at 3:12 PM on January 25, 2005

Oops. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

As to "hang in there," hwuh? He's saying it to Rickles. And the accent is on "hang," which it wouldn't be in that phrase.
posted by soyjoy at 3:12 PM on January 25, 2005

coral cache

While the humor is a little too racial for some, and pretty tame compared to other bits I've seen, I still don't get why the guy in the clip pointing it out is so outraged. The humor seemed akin to Blazing Saddles, which is still on store shelves.
posted by angry modem at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2005

I agree with Joey Michaels ... I don't think there was near the political correctness/sensitivity in 70s as there is now. I never heard anyone calling Carson a racist. I think we've gotten beyond this, don't you?
posted by terrier319 at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2005

As to "hang in there," hwuh? He's saying it to Rickles. And the accent is on "hang," which it wouldn't be in that phrase.

Well I'm just being fair here. It is strange. In the context of the full exchange I hear "hang in", and then isolated in the end I hear "hang him" - but I've been coached into listening for that. Dunno.

Either way, I don't think Carson advocating lynching. It's clear he's just trying to be blue in front of Rickles. The whole thing does feel pretty panicked and he might be freaking out a little. The "a black man!" is pretty funny, in a Lenny Bruce way. It's clear he's aping a "Sick" style (bruce, sahl, carlin, etc) at that point and not being plainly racist. Poorly done and out of character, though.
posted by Peter H at 3:23 PM on January 25, 2005

terrier319 - We're going to look back at the Dave Chappele show and think that it's racist. Amazing what hindsight does.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:24 PM on January 25, 2005

I thought Carson was dead.
posted by orange clock at 3:35 PM on January 25, 2005

What's funny, is this is actually the most contemporary comedy I've ever seen from Carson. Like that Colin Quinn show that got cancelled recently. (he though, i'm sure is a prick)

Not to defend Carson too much, I'm sure he has his demons but this aint much more than a C Thomas Howell movie.
posted by Peter H at 3:38 PM on January 25, 2005

This is pathetic. He clearly says 'Hang in': he's trying to get the 2nd comedian ['Rickles'] to keep playing along with him for laughs: 'hang in there with me, I dunno where we're going with this'.

The clip where he dons blackface is making a political point about two-faced politicians, and was probably cutting edge satire at the time [tho' not now, mores the pity].

What a waste of time, and what a quick bunch we can be to [mis]judge.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:38 PM on January 25, 2005

did Carson ever employ any Blacks on his staff during his 30yr run?
posted by tsarfan at 3:40 PM on January 25, 2005

...and this flagrant racism exists even today!?

Frankly, I'm shocked. Just SHOCKED!

Have any of you guys watched Steve Harvey, Chris Rock or the plethora of other black comics TODAY that make racial slurs and stereotyping the STAPLE of their acts?

I think people need to lighten the fuck up. Carson was a good guy.
posted by tkchrist at 3:42 PM on January 25, 2005

Spitting on Carson's grave already? I find that far more distasteful than anything in the videos.
posted by spilon at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2005

"...buy the cotton mill" was bit much, and seemed out of line.
As for the other quote, I heard the guy ask Johnny "How you doin' baby?", and Johnny respond "Hangin'" (as in "I'm hangin' in there").
Hard to be 100% sure though.
As for the black-face bit... Eh, not that crazy for the time. Remember "Soul Man"? That was 1986!
posted by numlok at 4:01 PM on January 25, 2005

i just got through watching a report on NBC about Johnny's legacy to his hometown in Nebraska .... the library, the school, the new cancer center ... all named after him for the generous donations he gave ... enough said.
posted by terrier319 at 4:03 PM on January 25, 2005

I have no doubt that Carson was one of the least "racist" people in Hollywood...to Carson, talent is all that mattered -- no matter the color. I believe that he was fascinated by people -- by their background, their perspective, their unique gifts, etc -- and that is one of the reasons why he was so successful at what he did for so long.
posted by davidmsc at 4:03 PM on January 25, 2005

Now Walt Disney, though, he was a shit head. For comparisons sake, that is.
posted by Peter H at 4:09 PM on January 25, 2005

I haven't been able to acess the clips, but from the desription, I get the impression that Carson was trying to do a shtick on stiff, stereotypical "white" guys trying to act "cool" and "hep," around black people.

It didn't work out to well, but I wouldn't call it racist, just kind of lame.
posted by jonmc at 4:11 PM on January 25, 2005

Funny this tendency we have to bring the skeletons out of the closets of the recently deceased. It was only a few months ago that long commentaries were written making sure we kept Ronald Regan's faults in mind as we watched him be put to rest. It is my humble opinion that the timing of such rants is in poor taste and shows a complete lack of respect for the dead.
posted by BarePaw at 4:16 PM on January 25, 2005

I thought it was more interesting that as he was busting in on the show he seems to be saying "I don't give a fuck if he's on the air". I'd expect to hear that kind of thing today on like the Daily Show or something, but on the Tonight Show circa whenever, it seems really out of character. I can't imagine him forgetting the cameras like that.
posted by willnot at 4:19 PM on January 25, 2005

BarePaw - it's not a lack of respect, it's an accurate accounting of who the man was. Give me a fuckin break already. Did anyone see the love-fest on Leno last night? It's well documented those two hated each other yet there is Jay heaping unending praise on Johnny the bigot/wife beater Carson.

I'm glad SoyJoy posted the link. Haven't we all had enough of Hollywood gushing over themselves? It's bad enough we're going to have to endure the litany of lifetime achievement awards Carson will get as a result of his passing.

Let's call this post - Fair and Balanced!!
posted by j.p. Hung at 4:31 PM on January 25, 2005

"....extremely suspect racial politics." Oh, please. This is a comedian, not a president. Spare us your pissant witch hunts, Greenberg.
posted by QuietDesperation at 4:33 PM on January 25, 2005

BarePaw - it's not a lack of respect, it's an accurate accounting of who the man was.

OK, give me the name of somebody public you admire. When they die, I'll dig through their dirty laundry, and I'm sure I'll find something you won't like, because nobody's perfect and the standards we set for public figures (especially entertainers, Carson was a comic, he wasn't running the country) are impossible for anyone to live up to.
posted by jonmc at 4:38 PM on January 25, 2005

I can understand the need for a somewhat softened -- pro-Carson sentiment.....It seems that, yes, he was funny -- or so that's what's people say. It jokes still seem to lack the bite that Stewart's have -- and their seem to be 4-5 moments that everyone remembers for a three decade show (the potato chip thing and the Ed Ames knife thing). That just seems low. But, I guess he was the right thing for the moment.

But, I'm just saying here, any guy who has 3-4 wives (or how many ever he had) probably is not some saint that will lift us above all that is wrong and be a true healer of our needing to laugh souls. No, any guy who goes through that many women, well, I'd have to has an element of selfishness. Jokes like the blackface sort of show he'd go far enough for a laugh if he had to do so.

But, then, again, the public seems to forgive public figures a free ride if they're perfectionists and good at what they primarily do -- Johnny Carson and Clinton fall into that category.

Listen, Carson was good.....but he does not have enough crap in his closet to keep him from being great.
posted by narebuc at 4:38 PM on January 25, 2005


I actually closed the browser window that was playing the video when Greenberg said "extremely suspect racial politics."
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:46 PM on January 25, 2005

wow, narebuc's comment/judgement about divorce and relationships just tipped this conversation into the bizarre...
posted by Peter H at 4:49 PM on January 25, 2005

I just listened to a Carson interview from 1963 or so, and he criticizes lame comics that make jokes about homosexuals. He also goes into how he determines where to draw the line between acceptable comedy and offensive jokes. I'm surprised he'd ever do a blackface bit after hearing it, and it was over a decade before these clips were first aired.
posted by mathowie at 4:51 PM on January 25, 2005

Listen, Carson was good.....but he does not have enough crap in his closet to keep him from being great.

This can be said of nearly anyone, though. When people have been talking about Carson being great, it is for his public acts. Should his public acts be measured by his private life? Should any human's?

I guess what I'm saying is that Jefferson had slaves. Does that destroy his greatness? (I mean, not that Carson = Jefferson)

Soyjoy: Oops. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

It is, IMO, a good link and interesting food for thought. Don't sweat it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:53 PM on January 25, 2005

It's worth noting that this Greenberg fellow was probably born around the time that this clip aired. For him, the sight of a comedian pointing out the presence of a black man might seem racist on its own. Those of us who were around know that such a comment would have been ironic -- Carson was as aware as anyone of the status of blacks in society.

Definitely the work of a self-important, irony-impaired jackass.
posted by QuietDesperation at 4:53 PM on January 25, 2005

I liked Johnny Carson and times were different so I can cut a little bit of slack... but that said, what's most interesting to me is that they featured this exact tale of Don Rickles breaking Johnny's cigarette case on the Tonight Show's "Tribute to Johnny" last night. The thing that's particularly interesting is that the last night the show featured this footage from completely different camera angles... showing an alternate camera view from the one seen on this video. Last night they continued to show the (more distant) view from inside the Tonight Show studio (instead of switching to the CPO Sharkey cameras as they did in this video) including Johnny imitating Don Rickles saying "um, um," and then cut it immediately before the "It's a black man comment."

Were it not for this post, I wouldn't have known about the rest of the skit. I can only imagine the frantic damage control involved yesterday in order for NBC to find the footage to edit out the rest of the skit yet include the story in a politically correct manner.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:53 PM on January 25, 2005

While on the subject, Don Rickles was, of course, known for his insult/racial humor. Johnny's comment could have been a sort of incredulous "Hey Don! A black man on your show?" kind of thing.

I'm not trying to be an apologist, but one should look at historical things in their context. If you have seen the Marx Brother's A Day At The Races, you will probably remember the "Gabriel" number which, to the 21st century eye, is really embarassing to watch because of the stereotyping. Harpo and Groucho, for their part, were known as progressives. Times change and what is acceptable for one generation of people to do is not for the next.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:10 PM on January 25, 2005

did Carson ever employ any Blacks on his staff during his 30yr run?

Don't know about the staff but Bill Cosby served as guest host when Johnny was gone in the 70's and early 80's
posted by Tenuki at 5:23 PM on January 25, 2005

Wasn't there just a mainstream movie released where two black actors played white women? And white actors still dress up as black people with some frequency for comedic effect. That aspect of the complaint, anyway, is ridiculous.
posted by rushmc at 5:29 PM on January 25, 2005

Eustacescrubb - so did I. "Extremely suspect racial politics"? I thought it was an attempt at humor. And if you're gonna dig on the man, don't pussyfoot with "extremely suspect". Kerist.
posted by notsnot at 5:35 PM on January 25, 2005

BarePaw: Reagan had been running the country, and there was bound to be some political effect in how his death was handled, whether in a blatant or under-the-radar manner, especially given the attempts by his acolytes to have him named for so much already. People do respond to all that talk. (I remember someone here writing recently that they were surprised to learn that Reagan had been disliked by anyone. And I thought, "Are you kidding?")

As for Carson . . . Sheesh, has this guy watched Airplane! lately? The scene where Striker "teaches" basketball to Africans is lame and would come off as offensive to many people if put in a film today. But I so love "Airplane!" and have to watch it at least once a year.
posted by raysmj at 5:38 PM on January 25, 2005

Carson was making a lame attempt at a comedy style that didn't work for him, but the racial stuff was pretty typical at the time (see Gene Wilder in Silver Streak, for example). The guy in the clip would shit a brick if he saw All in the Family, and he's trying to be offended. He says Carson forced Rickles' costar to do a high-five, but the guy* seems delighted to see Carson to me.

And the blackface skit is obviously a Star Trek tribute.

* According to Jump the Shark, he's Peter Isacksen; who was a guest on Carson's show in January 1977.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:45 PM on January 25, 2005

As someone who watched all of the above clips live when they were aired, I didn't see anything (at all) that was racist or inappropriate.

And as far as the "wife beating" comments, I think people are listening to Howard Stern way, way too much.
posted by braun_richard at 5:55 PM on January 25, 2005

Did Carson employ any blacks?

So the fuck what. Really. Do YOU!

I tell you this is game you won't win. And it is bullshit taking people and times out of their context, expecting them to be perfect. It's like that old chestnut "Thomas Jefferson Owned SLAVES! what a hypocrite!" Fuck that.

Hell: Does Spike Lee employ any Koreans!

What? He DON'T! Why that fucking racist. I mean shit. You see that movie he made where every Korean is a hyper-paranoid convenience store owner...

When EVERYBODY is racist, no one is.

Tangent strawman alert:

I'm sick of this shit. Do gooder lefties have no problem spitting on "establishment" icons for having anything less than perfect PC attributes, an almost cottage industry stripping our cultural library of any tainted art.

Then you go their apartments and see the obligatory copy of Naked Lunch sitting there on the bookshelf.

Racist... bad. Homophobe...bad. Yet...murder and homosexual child rapist... good. Hip, even.

Can we never speak of this again?
posted by tkchrist at 6:08 PM on January 25, 2005

When the guy in the basement has thirty years of whatever he does -- opinion, or criticism -- to pour through, I wonder if he'll hold up as well as Carson... doubtful.

On preview: take a deep breath tkchrist... it's going to be ok.
posted by mania at 6:10 PM on January 25, 2005

Let's talk about his outrageous sexism--even for the times--instead, huh? ; >

(it's not worth getting pissed over--it's just a dead celebrity--they all had faults.)

Media Shower was an incredibly great show--he found the most obscure/weird/funny/scary things.
posted by amberglow at 6:12 PM on January 25, 2005

tkchrist, how's the atmosphere on your planet?
posted by jonmc at 6:12 PM on January 25, 2005

heh. heh.
Sorry, Had to take my meds.
The all to common use of the "R"-word. A pet peeve of mine.

One of these days I'll tell you guys a great story about that.
posted by tkchrist at 6:15 PM on January 25, 2005

I also saw the Spike Lee movie where blacks are attacked for being lazy in basketball and just in general, to be fair, and everybody - including Puerto Ricans, Wall Street types, Italians, Russians, Asians, and of course Jesus - gets nailed to the cross. Spike's branched out a little by now.
posted by raysmj at 6:18 PM on January 25, 2005

The all to common use of the "R"-word. A pet peeve of mine.

Mine, too, but you could come up with a better response than that disaster.
posted by jonmc at 6:21 PM on January 25, 2005

it's not worth getting pissed over--it's just a dead celebrity--they all had faults.

Uh. We ALL have faults.

Hey. Nobody loves to deconstruct the celebrity culture as much as I do... but Carson was a bit more that a mere celeb. He was an icon and a presence that, unless you grew up with him during Vietnam and through the real social changes we went through then, you just can't really understand.

And it is the "R" word that gets me going. Hell, when Anne Coulter is calling people racist the word is nearly stripped of meaning.
posted by tkchrist at 6:21 PM on January 25, 2005

Hey. Jonmc. Why don't you give it a shot, bud. And we will all chime in on it. Don't hold back.
posted by tkchrist at 6:23 PM on January 25, 2005

He was an icon and a presence that, unless you grew up with him during Vietnam and through the real social changes we went through then, you just can't really understand.

That is the most tired argument, no matter who it comes from. I'm a big Johnny Carson fan, and I 'm not especially perturbed by these "revelations," but please don't insult everyone by implying we're incapable of exercising perspective.

on preview, I've been baited by the best, rookie. Don't even try.
posted by jonmc at 6:25 PM on January 25, 2005

All I was saying is that, yes he was talented and hard working, but he could have been something bigger.....I guess. I guess in this day and age -- what with instalinks to old video skits and the personal of public figures being public -- it's hard to be a saint -- even if we want or we need someone to be it.

The undertow of the whole Carson eulogising is that something good, something wholesome, alas, something Midwestern, was lost when the guy passed -- I just think that someone who treated family members and marriage like he did (an objective fact) can't really be our savior from the "divisiveness of Stewart".

We're all seraching for that one true saint, and, yes Jefferson was probably it for his time, given that ignorance is bliss......

As for the black reaction to Carson's death, both Cosby and Winfrey said great things about him......for what that's worth.

Instead of asking if he employed blacks, anyone know if he gave people like Richard Pryor time on his show?
posted by narebuc at 6:29 PM on January 25, 2005

I wasn't posing an argument, Sparky. It was an just honest personal statement.

So why don't you come up with your "better response" to the use of the "R" word?
posted by tkchrist at 6:29 PM on January 25, 2005

Carson gave plenty of air time to Flip Wilson and Bill Cosby. Later to Eddie Murphy and Richard Prior. Plenty of minority entertainers got a big break on Carson.
posted by tkchrist at 6:33 PM on January 25, 2005

How about this, cupcake:

Overuse of the word "racist" (I don't go in for euphemisms, sorry) cheapens the meaning of the word, and is too often used as a scarlet letter routine to discredit arguments one disagrees with rather than engage with them.

See, it's not so hard once you begin to read above a 5th grade level.
posted by jonmc at 6:35 PM on January 25, 2005

jonmc. Fair enough.

But who is insulting who? I NEVER insulted anyone. You TOOK offense. I never gave it. If I did, I apologize.

Dude your going WAY out of your way to insult me personally. Something I never did you. So I think your going over the top here. And I think everyone else would agree.

I'll give you a gentleman's chance to say sorry.
posted by tkchrist at 6:42 PM on January 25, 2005

I think it's interesting that Carson died of a smoking related disease, and he was upset in the 70's about Don Rickles breaking his cigarette box. Life sure is funny sometimes...
posted by kuatto at 6:45 PM on January 25, 2005

but Carson was a bit more that a mere celeb. He was an icon and a presence that, unless you grew up with him during Vietnam and through the real social changes we went through then, you just can't really understand.
I DID grow up with him--all of us who grew up pre-cable did. I watched him all the time, even when i was too young to get the more adult jokes--the animals and stupid skits were fun enough.

No one is saying he was a klansman--chill already.
posted by amberglow at 6:46 PM on January 25, 2005

and jon's just crotchety about everything--ignore his baiting you, tk.
posted by amberglow at 6:47 PM on January 25, 2005

Nice try. You call me "sparky," you abdicate your right to get upset at "cupcake." You accuse folks with a copy of Naked Lunch on their shelf (I have one myself) of being fans of murder and rape. You dug your own hole, now you get to stand in it.

If anyone should apologize it's you to the rest of the site for dropping the little stinkbomb that began this conversation.
posted by jonmc at 6:48 PM on January 25, 2005

Richard Pryor was on the "Tonight Show" rather consistently. And he was first on the show in the 1960s, according to his very own website. Richard wasn't someone Carson invited "later," after Cosby and Flip Wilson.
posted by raysmj at 6:49 PM on January 25, 2005

No one is saying he was a klansman--chill already.
I dunno. Give it few days. I bet there will be video footage or a flash game.
posted by tkchrist at 6:52 PM on January 25, 2005

Lol. Jonmc your over the top. Seriously.

Man. Didn't know you were so sensitive about your literature?

I own Naked Lunch, too. You ever hear of IRONY? The point of my slightly humorous little fake melt-down.

And it was an indirect scatter-shot troll comment. You sought me out.

Plus you became very directly discourteous with the "disaster" and "rookie" comments FIRST, my friend. Then really taking the whole thing out of proportion calling me a fag (cupcake) and stupid (5th grade reading level).

Gee. I must have really hurt your feelings.

If we were face to face you'd apologize.
posted by tkchrist at 7:03 PM on January 25, 2005

Richard wasn't someone Carson invited "later," after Cosby and Flip Wilson.

I did not know that. I forgot Prior had a fairly popular standup act in the 1960s.
Thanks raysmj.
posted by tkchrist at 7:11 PM on January 25, 2005

Then really taking the whole thing out of proportion calling me a fag (cupcake) and stupid (5th grade reading level).

Please, you called me a degrading name and I called you one back. For someone who gets upset about people playing the race card, you're awful quick to play the homophobia card.

As for stupid, hey, the proof is in the pudding.

And it was an indirect scatter-shot troll comment. You sought me out.

If we were face to face, you'd have never made the comment in the first place.

At least you admit it. The first step to recovery is admitting you've got a problem.

If we were face to face you'd apologize.
posted by jonmc at 7:25 PM on January 25, 2005

If we were face to face you'd have never made the comment in the first place.

Damn preview button.
posted by jonmc at 7:26 PM on January 25, 2005

Jonmc your joking, right? Damn. You are sensitive.

Sparky ain't degrading. My dad used to call people Sparky when they were all fired up over something. It is slightly amused and affectionate if anything.

Face to face? Sure. I'd call you Sparky. And you'd like it.

Oh. And as for problems. I got plenty. And, Sparky, obviously so do you.

But let's see. I live in Seattle. You in NY. So next time I'm in town (should be around June) - or you're here - let's see shall we?

posted by tkchrist at 7:33 PM on January 25, 2005

"Compelling and disturbing..."

Nope, neither particularly, unless maybe if you were born last week. Man, if anyone thinks this is bad they must be pretty clueless about recent history. Does this guy really not understand how brutally horrendous actual racism was?

This is hardly Johnny's finest hour but really, getting tweaked about it is pretty narrow, like a teenager comparing taking out the garbage to slavery or getting a traffic ticket to an encounter with fascists.

I guess we should be happy we live in a time when some folks can find this remotely 'disturbing'.
posted by scheptech at 7:34 PM on January 25, 2005

Turns out Carson did have a rubber plantation in the Congo and was known to own several Thai brothells specializing in under-age teens...

posted by tkchrist at 7:38 PM on January 25, 2005


In the cigarette case clip that wasn't Peter Isacksen. On CPO Sharky he was the gangly white guy Rickles insulted. The black man in the clip was Harrison Page. On Sharky he was the black guy Rickles insulted.

Never cared for his humor myself.

As for the second skit: doesn't anyone remember politicians during school busing in the 70s? The ones in my home town were trying everything but blackface. Most were talking out of both sides of their mouths. Say one thing to the white voter and the opposite to the black voter.

Hence the humor in the skit.
posted by ?! at 7:57 PM on January 25, 2005

Boston is still messed up over that, i think. (and in the firing smokers thread, someone's actually arguing that companies should be allowed to discriminate however and against whoever they want--we've come a long way, baby--or not)
posted by amberglow at 8:00 PM on January 25, 2005

It's a common reaction, after the media's lionizing of someone famous who dies, to point out that they were just people. The more the media puts them up on a pedestal, the more likely it is that someone will point out the warts and boils.
posted by amberglow at 8:09 PM on January 25, 2005

Well, this has turned out well.

Folks, the point in posting this (and I believe the point in the guy putting it online in the first place) was not to spit on Carson's grave with some hitherto unknown bombshell from his past. Fer chrissakes, I said right at the top of the page that I saw this - along with a million other people - the night it aired. The point is that then, in that context, this casual racism - not particular to Johnny Carson by any means - just sailed right by because it was part of the fabric of our culture.

And it seems silly that there need be any argument about this, but whatever faults of tone or overstatement Jamie Greenberg may have, he's clearly right on the phrase "hang him." As I said, nothing approximating "hang in there" would be said as he says it, "HANG him," and he's saying it clearly as a laugh line, i.e. declaiming it, not sotto voce for Rickles' ears only. Additionally, that's the (attempted) punch line of his whole riff on the "raw," "sick" style - he pretends to be nice to the guy and then turns his back to stage-whisper the "hang him" part. It's exactly the rhythm that joke would have had, and did have as variations of it occurred in countless other skits and shows of the era.

Now, given that he was actually saying "hang him," (let's not even go into the whole "cotton mill" comment) what do we take from that? That Johnny Carson was "advocating lynching?" That Johnny Carson tried to keep the Black Man down with his mighty White Hand? Puhhhh-Leeeeze! You guys have loose straw all over you from the fights you've been getting in. No, sorry, no one in their right mind was ever suggesting anything of the sort.

Andrew the blogger put it pretty clearly: "I don't have any reason to think these clips reveal something dark about Carson himself, but they do reveal a lot about the sort of race-oriented humor that was acceptable on television even in the late 1970s." I found this worth posting because more than that, it's rare footage of an unscripted moment where we see someone exposing the kind of thinking that was so common as to be ubiquitous at the time, right beneath the sheen of squeaky-shiny politically-correct mainstream product like The Tonight Show.

That's not to say now we live in a racism-free culture now. In some ways it's more racist. But it's very different from the culture we lived in on the night this aired. And I find that difference very interesting.
posted by soyjoy at 8:15 PM on January 25, 2005

Hey tkchrist...welcome to the Terrordome.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:15 PM on January 25, 2005

Let me get this straight, someone sitting in his parents basement pulls up two skits of "comedy" and decides to label the Carson a racist. Seems like too an easy argument to make and I am not sure it is the right argument.

Carson has been on the air for 30 years, I don't think two skits should define who the man was. Personally, Carson was a talking head so you won't find any here worship here. But anyone's character should be defined by more than just two skits.

The black gentleman in the CPO Sharkey skit may well have been one of the people they hung out with. Like the Rat Pack, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a group of like minded people (i.e. comedians) that hung out together and there was more of a relationship than is shown in that "skit." I have seen Richard Pryor do "blackface" humor just like Carson was doing - during this period I think it was fairly common.

The second skit with the dual skin-tone. So what. I saw this as the two faced politician mocking that it was. Why are we not offended at our politicians.

Personally, this who thread as been interesting, but really, nothing to see here, please move along.
Lastly, stop the name calling and go to your rooms!
posted by fluffycreature at 8:16 PM on January 25, 2005

One more thing, just for posterity...

Just wanted to clarify that this was a reply to this and this, not to this or this, both of which snuck in between.
posted by soyjoy at 8:23 PM on January 25, 2005

Guy doing the commentary on the skits: douchebag.

Johnny Carson: probably not racist, but probably a bit egocentric. As someone earlier said, would do what it takes to get the laughs.

"Hang him": nope, it's "Hangin."

"Hey it's a black guy!" as in... "hey, it's a black guy on racist Don Rickles' Show!"

Blackface- a bit weird. Maybe playing on political doubletalk? Politicians say one thing to the white man, another to the black, just to get votes?

Cotton Gin down south: ok, that's just a bit over the line.

Important difference from Blazing Saddles- in that movie it was the black guy who was the main character and hero, who used people's stereotypes against them.

Overall judgement: embarrassing, nothing to crucify the man over.
posted by papakwanz at 8:34 PM on January 25, 2005

Ufez Jones - LOL!

That was funny. ("Insane rant"... c'mon. That was gold!)

That said; There are some indignities I wont suffer... at least the ones I don't do to my self anyway.

And I WILL (and have gone) f2f with people when they insult me and try to bluff it out.

I got no problem in real world with swallowing my pride and buying a guy a beer or rolling up my sleeves and putting on the boxing gloves... any ol' time. (Most keyboard warriors run like rabbits when I show I'm game with the offer.)

It's usually their choice.
posted by tkchrist at 8:42 PM on January 25, 2005

tkchrist: add contact info to your userpage tho--it's a bad sign otherwise
posted by amberglow at 8:52 PM on January 25, 2005


No. Not yet. Bad experiences in the past.

I box. And yeaars ago some character on a USENET Martial Arts group gave me a rash of shit about some thing or another. So I gave him my gym where he could meet me and then he started spaming and harassing my coach for MONTHS. It was very embarrassing to me and I blew the trust of a third party. I won't do that again.

If an individual is interested in a meet then I will wait until they are actually in town - or I am in their town - to let them know directly.
posted by tkchrist at 9:11 PM on January 25, 2005

then get a new hotmail or yahoo or gmail address--it matters to a lot of people.

no more derailing--back to the lynching of Carson posthumously ; >
posted by amberglow at 9:26 PM on January 25, 2005

(tk: jon's a good guy. He'd be more likely to hang out and shoot the breeze with over a beer. He doesn't want a piece of you, trust me.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:27 PM on January 25, 2005

heads up to tkchrist and jonmc for the biggest derail ever. Crash and burn! Hey, I heard Johnny Carson died.
posted by j.p. Hung at 9:34 PM on January 25, 2005

Have to double (or treble or whatever) the comments about the unbearable self-importance of the host here, especially as his righteous gorge rises up as he says "extREMEly suspect racial politics." Ye gods. I was so glad to (mostly) escape people like then when I got out of the sociology classes I had to take to graduate from college.
posted by argybarg at 9:46 PM on January 25, 2005

"probably not racist, but probably a bit ego-centric".


What is your definition of racist / racism? In my opinion, it has an awful lot to do with where your ego is centered. Do you hold your relationships to be important? Or are your own comfort limits, priorities and wants more important? Just seems relevant to me.
posted by Embryo at 10:22 PM on January 25, 2005

Wait, Johnny Carson is dead?!?
posted by swell at 10:23 PM on January 25, 2005

Everyone's a little bit racist
Doesn't mean we go
Around committing hate crimes.
Look around and you will find
No one's really color blind.
Maybe it's a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.
posted by mosch at 10:44 PM on January 25, 2005

One more point. Greenberg says it's shocking that this would have aired in 1976. What he doesn't grasp is that it would never have been aired in 1966 or 1956. With precious few exceptions, black didn't exist on TV then, and when they did, their blackness was kept out of the discussion. Carson's skits were actually evidence of progress, despite their poor taste.

In the first skit, you need to take Johnny's greeting of the black man together with his "hang him" comment -- they're part of one joke: a satire of people who pretend to welcome black people while secretly dismissing them.

In a few years, the skits would be beyond the pale, but acknowledging that black people and racism exist, even if tastelessly done, was a vast improvement over the hush-hush of the preceding era.

Not only is he humorless and self-righteous, but Greenberg is also an ahistorical drip.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:49 PM on January 25, 2005

Tempest in a teapot. Carson definitely says "hang him," but it seems clear that he's doing an imitation of Rickles, directly at Rickles, doing the fake insult comedy that was a staple of both Rickles's career, and that horrible show C.P.O. Sharkey itself. The black actor knows it's all show biz crap, and isn't 'forced' to do anything. Nor does he seem offended. In the other brief skit Carson obviously was trying to lampoon two-faced politicians.

Even if Carson does screw up here, and from the context of our times decades later it seems he did, it's one skit out of 4,531 episodes (!!). 4,531 shows, not skits. Over 22,000 guests. Who among us, as the saying goes, could work that long without messing up dozens of times.

Carson apparently was like Chance the Gardener, a blank slate of a person, somebody who doesn't seem to have existed outside the context of a TV screen. But to call him a secret racist because of that odd remark or two seems ludicrous. Give the guy a break, you hockey pucks.

p.s. It's ironic — in light of the fact that despite all his wealth, all his resources, he was laid low by smoking — that this whole fuss occurred over a cigarette box.

(on Preview: I'm usually not a fan of poetry, but that's a very nice one, mosch. Well said.)
posted by LeLiLo at 11:00 PM on January 25, 2005

Everyone makes judgements based on race
because race was constructed in the first place
in the worst way
to control and enslave
it spread from europe around the eighteenth century A. -

D-evious system of meme distribution
socially constructed cultural pollution
just by living here it's in you --
it's everywhere around you, in everything that you do

if i wasn't working i wouldn't be getting paid --
if i wasn't white, getting paid would be a whole different game.

If you give a hint that it's in you -- when most people watch you
you'll be living that revelation down for years.
not even so much to other people -- because once they've scaped your goatheadedness to annoint their own fears --

they'll want to forget it just as much as you do
as long as you get up on that cross and pay the due
to help everyone else forget that it exists.
so the cycle continues, and we allow little kids
to drown in circumstances that we don't have to fear
like a herd of beetles trying to drive a caddy there
the absurd gets peddled, and we fall right flat
hating bush is not a progressive or activist tact

but guilt collects between your ears.
settles somewhere near your tear
and your dormant sense that we're all getting fucked

history's arc is something we all have to bend
darwinism forgets mutual aid -- but go ahead, pretend.
posted by Embryo at 11:24 PM on January 25, 2005

Jeez, hasn't anyone heard Big Brother by Stevie Wonder? I thought it was blindingly obvious what the half-black-face skit was about.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:41 AM on January 26, 2005

Now if we can just stop Dave Chappelle from making racist-poop jokes...

Oh, wait... Brilliant!!
posted by Balisong at 7:18 AM on January 26, 2005

For those of you too young to remember, Mr. Carson was doing Rickles' act, almost word for word. "Hey! A black man!" was straight out of Rickles' playbook. What I got out of this was that Mr. Carson was pretty pissed about the cigarette box and proceeded to mock Rickles and his lame, borderline racist act in front of a nationwide audience.

As for the two-faced politician, that would still be remembered fondly if it had been the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players that had done it. They were on at the same year that Mr. Carson did that bit.
posted by faceonmars at 10:04 AM on January 26, 2005

did Carson ever employ any Blacks on his staff during his 30yr run?

Yeah he did I've seen serveral from the show talking about him the past few days, in fact the guy that pulled the curtain every night for him to enter the stage, was black. He called Carson the best boss in the world and still kept in touch.

I think in the "Yo black man" clip that Carson is mocking Rickles, not the black guy. That's all pure Rickles there. Mocking him on his own show, from your own show with a live audience - that's funny. And , one thing people seem to miss is Carson, Rickles and Bob Newhart, as different as they were, were all best friends. That's why they were on the tribute show monday.

Mr NYC elitest hepster evidnetially is not as smart as he thinks he is

His claim that rickles was shocked, despite his being hailed as a improvisational genius, is true, he was shocked. He was lauging his ass off from the shock of it. But he was also not on stage in his element. He was in the middle of acting a scene. It's hard to switch gears, when you're ambushed and it's your friend pulling something liek that. Rickels was throuughly enjoying the joke. And it wasn't his joke, it was johnny's which is a totally diff ballgame.

And Johnny was fake mad, I mean, look at the dialog, the little convo with Doc was hardly surprise talking. He took his show seriously, everyone who knew him said that. You really think he took a vacation/day off and DOESNT watch the shows fill ins? You really think that the props guy didn't FIX the box before he got there without getting a call to say not to becasue he had somethign in mind?

Having had the honor of seeing Don Rickles in Vegas just last march, and seeing how unPC his show is and has always been. He spares no one, no one - fat, thin, tall, short, asian, black - italian, redheaded, you name it - is safe. He spent 20 minutes on a older Asian lady talking about "love you long time" and "here, launder this for me, no starch, toots" and she was DYING laughing. I thought she was gonna pass out.

The guy introducing the clips gives "liberals" like me a bad name. Comedy changes, and fluxes with society. You can't inflict vintage comedy to the the modern standards. To folks like him, Monty Python is "Classist". (I hope I'm dead long before Python is no longer considered funny.)

The comedy play Lincoln was shot during was a laught riot at the time, now it's barely even intelligible. The language in it now is nothing, then it was scandalous.
posted by Dome-O-Rama at 12:28 PM on January 26, 2005

The 70's racist humor, you say?
posted by linux at 1:45 PM on January 27, 2005

Carson was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me
Flat-out racist the man was a hick from the plains
Motherfuck him and McMay-hain
posted by whuppy at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2005

(Just kidding. I idolized the man and still stand in awe of his accomplishments.)
posted by whuppy at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2005

Either way, thanks for bumping us up to three digits, whuppy. And Living Colour parodies are always welcome, wherever you go.

This gives me an excuse to include this almost-related news story about Carson, his legacy, and off-color humor.
posted by soyjoy at 12:47 PM on January 28, 2005

Living Color?
posted by Embryo at 12:47 PM on January 30, 2005

That's Public Enemy, I'll have you know. "Fight the Power", The original line is "Elvis was a hero to most/ But he never meant shit to me you see/ Straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain/ Motherfuck him and John Wayne."

Very controversial line, even in 1989.
posted by Calast at 5:11 AM on January 31, 2005

Living Color?

Um, no, Living Colour. But you're right, Calast, I forgot they were riffing off of PE in that section of "Elvis is Dead." Thanks.
posted by soyjoy at 8:22 AM on January 31, 2005

I think I'll exercise the option to never see these clips period. The guy is dead, what the fuck do I care. Now to mention it I didn't give a fuck when he was alive.
posted by nanojath at 7:47 PM on February 24, 2005

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