Johnny Carson’s comedic legacy will be showcased today as the National Comedy Center unveils a new exhibit and Pat Hazell hosts Carson Tonight: Johnny’s Comedy and Variety Acts Live at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.
The National Comedy Center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new multi-screen exhibit, Johnny Carson: The Immersive Experience, will celebrate Carson’s comedy career and his legacy as a 30-year Tonight Show host.
Hazell, who was a guest on Carson’s show, will host special performances at 7 p.m. by magician Lance Burton, comedian Cathy Ladman, ventriloquist Jay Johnson, wildlife expert Joan Embery, champion storyteller Don Reed, The Passing Zone juggling team Jon Wee & Owen Morse, Mighty Carson Art Player Teresa Ganzel, and Carson Entertainment Group President Jeff Sotzing.
“I really thought a meeting saluting Johnny as a way to draw attention to the big, immersive Carson exhibit that’s opening at the museum would be a really, really fun way to put that on the map,” Hazel said.
Hazell personally called each of the acts and invited them to perform at the show in honor of the 30th anniversary of Carson’s final Tonight Show episode and the 60th anniversary of Carson’s Tonight Show premiere episode.
Tonight’s performance will feature a unique variety of acts and talents.
“I felt like Johnny Carson had a fondness for variety acts, comedy, magic, ventriloquism and juggling,” Hazel said.
As a result, Hazell decided to find the best variety acts that had performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and bring them together for a special one-night performance in Jamestown.
Hazell said the various artists are ready to come together to honor Carson’s legacy because of the incredible impact his show has had on their careers.
“Everyone on this show recognizes that their careers have come a long way after Johnny gave them his endorsement,” he said.
Each of the performers is thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the National Comedy Center’s new exhibit honoring Carson’s legacy.
“It allows us to have this great salvation”, Hazel said. “I thought it would just be a super fun thing to do this live. This is truly a one-night event created specifically for this Saturday night.
Hazell encouraged the local community to attend the special event, as Carson Tonight: Johnny’s Comedy & Variety Acts Live will only perform in Jamestown.
“I would say if anyone is within striking distance, they should get a ticket and come out and have fun with us,” he said. “I would hate for people to miss it within driving distance. It’s very, very special.”
Hazell hopes the performance will inspire people to visit the National Comedy Center exhibit featuring Johnny Carson. He thinks young comedians and talented people can continue to be inspired by exploring Carson’s legacy on The Tonight Show.
The Tonight Show served as inspiration for budding comics.
“Johnny was a gracious host,” he said. “He amplified the voices of so many young comedians.”
Hazell said the hosts of tonight’s show are still trying to emulate Carson to this day.
“They take the game sheet from Johnny’s book,” he said.
In addition to Carson’s national legacy and recognition, Hazell said the community of Jamestown has given Carson and the comedy world a unique platform.
“Jamestown is really doing something amazing between the Lucy Festival and the museum”, he said. “Comedy is really celebrated in a way that it hasn’t been in the last hundred years. It gives it a certain gravity.
In a post-pandemic world, Hazell thinks comedy matters because of the positive impact it has on people’s lives.
“Comedy gives us hope” he said.
People attending the event can expect around 90% of the show to be made up of “the absolute best” live performances, however, Hazell said there will also be shared comedic music videos from Carson’s show.
“We curated Johnny’s highlights”, he said.
In a unique twist on the event, Hazell also added intros for each act of Carson’s Tonight Show. Hazell thought it would be special to have Carson as “virtual co-host” and introduce each act himself for Saturday’s performance.
Hazel said the show’s conclusion will feature Don Reed, who was scheduled to perform on Carson’s show but was unable to appear with Carson on the show due to a scheduling issue. The event will honor Carson’s wish to see Reed perform on his show.
The variety of acts performed together at the event reflects Carson’s deep ability to bring people together, Hazel said.
“We’re just lucky to have Johnny Carson’s gravitational pull to bring everyone together for this weekend,” he said.
Hazell said one of the challenges for variety artists is learning how to take a talent and find the right place to display it and gain an audience. He explained that since Carson’s show, the world lacked the means to showcase variety acts, with the notable exception of shows like America’s Got Talent.
Despite the difficulties variety performers may face today, Hazell encouraged young performers to pursue their dreams.
“If someone really has a passion or talent in something, keep practicing,” he said. “All those hours of training pay off.”
Tonight’s event at Reg Lenna will give the public a chance to come together and celebrate Carson’s legacy and the impact he has had on the comedy community and on variety acts.
“After a pandemic, there is nothing as engaging as live performance,” Hazel said. “We are a bit exhausted from meetings and Zoom meetings. There is something contagious about experiencing this magic of performing arts with other humans. People will remember what we miss when we shelter in place. There is a greater appreciation for the gathering.
Hazell said the Jamestown community understands this concept, especially given last week’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. However, Hazell also said the event would be uniquely different from the comedy festival.
“It’s a bit different from the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival because it’s not all stand-up comedy,” he said. “They are people with a lot of different talents. It’s really unique and we don’t want to take it for granted.