Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Fleas of a Thousand Camels

I had a lot to do today. So naturally I spent some time watching clips of Carnac the Magnificent on YouTube. There seem to be a lot of them posted. As brilliant as Johnny Carson was, the humor is aging fast, and not just because most of the jokes were topical. The tone of the humor is also aging. So it goes.

I'm reminded of a visual gag from a long-lost era that hung in my grandmother's bathroom, which I always saw when I visited her before her death in 1971. It was a small wooden box with a glass window. Attached to the box by a small chain was a small hammer. Behind the glass was a small corn cob. The lettering on the box said, IN CASE OF EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS.

I also spent a minute or two wondering whether the Smithsonian has possession of the Carnac costume, or at least the headgear. A simple Google search didn't answer that question, so I'm going to leave it alone. But the institution should have it.

It was a treat when Carson did Carnac. The prospect of it always kept me watching the show a little longer. The sketch might have been the first time I ever heard of Funk & Wagnell's, since we didn't have that brand of dictionary around the house that I knew of, and it was already old-timey even in the 1970s. But maybe I heard of it on Laugh-In before that. ("Go look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.")

Ed McMahon's introductory shtick is easy enough to find.

I hold in my hand these envelopes. As a child of four can plainly see, these envelopes have been hermetically sealed. They've been kept in a #2 mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnell's porch since noon today. No one knows the contents of these envelopes, but you, in your mystical and borderline divine way, will ascertain the answers to these questions having never seen them before.

I also spent time reading an interview with Marshall Brickman about writing for The Tonight Show.

Brickman: One of the things that I’ll go to my grave having to apologize for is having invented the Carnac Saver.

Interviewer: Which was what?

Brickman: Every time Johnny’s character Carnac the Magnificent told a joke that bombed, he would have a line that would save him. Like a “heckler-stopper.” And we would give Johnny a page of these jokes: “May the Great Camel of Giza leave you a present in your undershorts.” I can’t believe we were paid for this.

It's been almost exactly 30 years to the day since the Siss-Boom-Baa gag by Carnac the Magnificent. That's got to be a pop culture milestone of some kind, along with a better-publicized 30th anniversary this week.



At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dees - I was always a big fan of Carnac. Glad you made me think of him.
Best wishes, MT


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