Getting Johnny Carson to laugh was a lifetime accomplishment for any comedian. As the funniest man in late-night television, Carson was both one of comedy’s greatest propagators and one of its toughest critics. He was notorious for rarely interacting with his guests outside of interview segments and didn’t give any of his guests any easy outs. Carson didn’t do cheap laughs: when you cracked him up, it was genuine.
Even the most hardened nightclub comedians feared appearing on The Tonight Show. On one hand, it was easily the most popular late-night show for decades, and a killer appearance could kickstart an entire career. However, if you bombed, Johnny wouldn’t invite you back to the desk, wouldn’t invite you back onto the program, and your prospects could stall in an instant. It was a gamble to go on to his show, since Johnny made you work for your success.
But you didn’t have to be a comedian to get Carson to crack up. That’s what former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen proved when he appeared on The Tonight Show in 1988. Johansen was in the middle of a career resurgence, having earned a hit with the song ‘Hot Hot Hot’ and scoring a role as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged. When he appeared on The Tonight Show, it was as Buster Poindexter, the nattily-dressed lounge singer persona that he had adopted for his solo music career at the time.
But Johansen isn’t hiding behind the “nom de guerre”, as he puts it. Instead, he freely discusses his work with the Dolls, whom he calls a “teenage band”. He also discusses Scrooged, calling Bill Murray his “guru” in the acting world. But when asked if motion pictures are the direction he’s angling towards, Johansen explains that his biggest fantasy is to star in a Broadway musical.
What follows is a nearly five-minute story that incorporates lesbian vampires, Preparation H, bloody marys, and a morning routine that has to be seen to be believed. Johansen already has Carson laughing during some of the more ridiculous moments of his pre-audition procedure when he cops to landing the part simply because the casting director recognised him. For most celebrity guests, this would be the end of the story, but Johansen starts kicking it into high gear from there.
It really doesn’t do the hilarious story justice by writing it all out and explaining it here. All you need to know is that Johansen has a way with words that causes Carson to crack like a professional comedian just killed a set. Poor Robert Goulet never got dunked on this hard until Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live impression a decade later.
Check out the story down below.