The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a staple of the NBC lineup for nearly 30 years, becoming an enduring aspect of American life in the process, with its mixture of topical humor, laid-back celebrity interviews, and the eternally boyish charm of its Midwestern-born host. Carson retired from The Tonight Show desk in 1992 and died in 2005. It would seem that Carson’s Tonight Show exists today only in reruns and YouTube clips, a relic of the past. But now, comedian Conner O’Malley, himself a writer for NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers, is presenting his own profane, dadaist take on the legendary late-night chat fest, filmed on an incredibly ramshackle set at the Aviv Music Venue in Brooklyn. O’Malley, sweating profusely and wearing a loose-fitting, white-haired wig and orange makeup, portrays Carson. Or—more accurately—he plays a lurching, leering, semi-coherent approximation of Carson. This is a ghoulish, gargoyle-like parody of The Tonight Show in which the host, his sidekicks, and the guests are all monstrous.
In many ways, O’Malley’s Tonight Show parody is a reflection of how poorly comedy from the past tends to age. There’s a montage, for instance, of homophobic clips from comedians like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Andrew “Dice” Clay. This is a prelude to a bit in which O’Malley-as-Carson does a stereotypical bit called “Gay Voice.” (“I like to go rug shopping in female underwear!”) Also in keeping with the standards of the past, O’Malley chain smokes for the entire program, as does virtually everyone else on stage. Carson’s guests, played by actors in terrible wigs and makeshift costumes, are uniformly shameless and vulgar. Marv Albert (John Reynolds) cheerfully discusses his sexual assault case, and a druggy, zombie-like Anna Nicole Smith (Devin Bockrath) staggers on stage to talk about her resurrection and thrust her breasts in the audience’s face. Complete with embarrassing old commercials and TV clips—including a recurring Seinfeld spoof with Dan Klein as the bewildered comedian—O’Malley’s Tonight Show is an excoriating satire of show business excess. It plays like a cross between SCTV ‘s “The Sammy Maudlin Show” at its ugliest and the weirdest scenes from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
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