Johnny Carson’s comedic legacy will be featured 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 comedic career and his legacy as the Tonight Show host for 30 years.
Hazell, who was a guest on Carson’s show, will host special performances at 7 pm 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 reunion saluting Johnny as a way to bring attention to the big immersive Carson exhibit opening at the museum would be a really fun way to sort of put that on the map,” Hazell 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 first Tonight Show episode.
Tonight’s performance will feature a unique variety of acts and talents.
“I felt like Johnny Carson had an affection for variety acts and comedy and magic and ventriloquism and juggling,” Hazell said.
As a result, Hazell decided to find the best variety acts that had performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and bring them together for a special one-night performance in Jamestown.
Hazell said the different performers were willing to come together to honor Carson’s legacy because of the incredible impact his show had on their careers.
“Everybody on this show has a great acknowledgment that their career advanced immensely after Johnny gave them the approval,” he said.
Each of the performers are excited about the opportunity to tour the National Comedy Center’s new exhibit honoring the legacy of Carson.
“It allows us to have this grand salute,” Hazell said. “I thought it would be just a super fun thing to do that live. It’s really a one-night only 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 be performing in Jamestown.
“I would say if somebody’s within striking distance, they should grab a ticket and come out and have fun with us,” he said. “I would hate for people to miss it that are within driving distance. It is very very special.”
Hazell hopes the performance will inspire people to visit the National Comedy Center’s exhibit featuring Johnny Carson. He believes that young comics and talented individuals can continue to be inspired by exploring Carson’s legacy on The Tonight Show.
The Tonight Show served as an inspiration for aspiring comics.
“Johnny was a gracious host,” he said. “He amplified the voice of so many young comics.”
Hazell said tonight show hosts still try to model themselves after Carson to this day.
“They’re taking the play sheet from Johnny’s book,” he said.
In addition to the national legacy and recognition of Carson, Hazell said the Jamestown community has given both Carson and the world of comedy a unique platform.
“Jamestown is really doing an amazing thing between the Lucy Festival and the museum,” he said. “Comedy is really being celebrated in a way that it hasn’t been in the last hundred years. It’s giving it some gravitas.”
In a post-pandemic world, Hazell believes comedy is important because of the positive impact it has on people’s lives.
“Comedy gives us hope,” he said.
People who the event attend can expect about 90% of the show to be comprised of “the absolute best” live performances, however, Hazell said there will also be comedic video clips shared from Carson’s show.
“We’ve curated Johnny’s highlights,” he said.
In a unique twist on the event, Hazell has also added introductions for each act from Carson’s Tonight Show. Hazell thought it would be special to have Carson serve as a “virtual co-host” and introduce each act himself for Saturday’s performance.
Hazel said the conclusion of the show will feature Don Reed, who was scheduled to perform on Carson’s show but was not able 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 performing together at the event reflect Carson’s profound ability to bring people together, Hazel said.
“We’re just lucky to have the gravitational pull of Johnny Carson to bring everybody together for this weekend,” he said.
Hazell said one of the challenges for variety acts is learning how to take a talent and find the right place to display it and gain an audience. He explained that ever since Carson’s show, the world has lacked ways to showcase variety acts, with the notable exception of shows like America’s Got Talent.
Despite the variety difficulties acts can face today, Hazell encouraged young performers to continue to pursue their dreams.
“If somebody really has a passion or talent in some area, keep practicing,” he said. “All of those hours of practice pay off.”
Tonight’s event at the Reg Lenna will give the audience a chance to come together and celebrate the legacy of Carson and the impact he made on the comedic community and on variety acts.
“After a pandemic, there’s nothing as engaging as live performance,” Hazell said. “We’re kind of exhausted from Zoom reunions and meetings. There’s something contagious about experiencing with other humans that magic of live performance. People will remember what it is we are missing when we kind of shelter in place. There’s a greater appreciation for gathering.”
Hazell said the Jamestown community understands this concept, especially considering last week’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. However, Hazell also said the event will be notably different than the comedy festival.
“It’s quite a bit different from the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival because it’s not all stand-up comics,” he said. “It’s people with a lot of different talents. It’s really unique and we don’t want to take it for granted.”