Some things don’t translate even when you’re speaking the same language. One of those things is Morrissey. As the lead singer of The Smiths, Morrissey became a household name in Britain but he was only ever able to cultivate a relatively small group of diehard fans across the pond in America.
But, as many people will know on Twitter to this day, underestimate a Morrissey fan at your peril, their numbers may have been comparatively small but their devotion is unmatched. As Moz arrived on US shores in 1991 for the Kill Uncle tour, the singer was welcomed by a ferocious fandom.
Still, to much of America, the singer was a nobody. That said, because of how quickly he sold out his tour, the singer was afforded some of the more high profile spots on US TV—including his debut on television in America when he was welcomed on Johnny Carson’s ‘The Tonight Show’ on June 14th, 1991.
It was a big opportunity for Morrissey, to be on Carson’s show was one thing but to be on the episode that included the then-most famous comedian in the world, Bill Cosby, was certainly another. Somehow, during the performance, Morrissey, this little known singer with a quiff and eight to ten buttons undone on his shirt, was the only star in the room.
Especially according to the heaving crowd in the studio, all packed din ready to ambush the stage and hug and kiss Morrissey if they possibly could. It would disrupt Carson’s opening monologue and show a personality struggling to come to terms with a new age. The madness continued as Cosby made his way out to entertain the audience this time putting Morrissey into every joke he could find. It became an inside joke as the two prehistoric comedians began mocking their younger audience.
As the curtain rose for Morrissey’s first performance of the night the sheer shrieks of joy must have deafened the two old pros in the chairs. Reminiscent of Beatlemania, it was shocking for all involved who had never heard of him. Morrissey bursts into life with a feathered quiff and the perfumed air of bad news, the crowd suitably lost their cool as he sang ‘Sing Your Life’.
Next up was the even more sardonic ‘There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends’ which was equally greeted with rapturous applause. It seemed as though it was too much for either the show or its host to bear as they oddly segued to an interview with Beau Bridges after the final notes. When they came back Carson was already thanking his guests for coming. Bill Cosby, Beau Bridges, everyone except Morrissey.
It would end with the crowd heckling the host and Carson walking off stage without his usual charm. Watch Morrissey make his extraordinary US TV debut back in 1991, on an infamous episode of ‘The Tonight Show’.