Johnny Carson in Blackface

Haven’t been able to get the download to work yet – I’m guessing the server is swamped.

I don’t have any reason to think these clips reveal something dark about Carson himself, but they do reveal a lot about the sort of race-oriented humor that was acceptable on television even in the late 1970s. The second clip is from 1976 and features a jive-talking Carson in blackface – or, to be more accurate, half-blackface. Johnny Carson! In blackface! In 1976!

Further background: the caustic (and wicked) Bamboozled.

Update: Was able to download the clip – and it is indeed clear that Carson is mocking Rickles’ racist style of comedy. Much intense discussion on Metafilter… But is blackface acceptable in any context? And I mean that sincerely – as much as I enjoyed Tracy Ullman singing ‘Sit Down Your Rockin’ the Boat’ on her show – she was in full blackface make-up and she is a master of transformation. But is it always in bad taste – is this a distinctly American pre-occupation? And does anybody but blacks and whites really care?

2 thoughts on “Johnny Carson in Blackface

  1. Larry Chinn

    If I could please add some context, I saw both the complete show *AND* the previous night when Rickles broke Carson’s cigarette box. Moreover I used to make a point of watching the Tonight Show especially when some of the great comedians like Rickles were on to push Carson. I was amazed because it was one of the few times Carson almost lost control being so angry with Rickles who often pushed his buttons. There’s absolutely nothing racist about the episode. It was so obvious that Carson was belittling Rickles by mocking his brand of abusive humor which always included racist asides about blacks. One time as a guest Rickles did such a thing and Carson made him go up in the audience to the find the black man which Rickles always mugged as part of his schtick. It would do anyone who promotes misinformation about this clip to put it in proper context. Thank you.

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