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Cracked Candles and Comic Geniuses

Sort 295's tribute to Johnny Carson.

by Dear Jon
January 25, 2005

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ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

Can "decorative" candles be used once they've fallen to the floor and cracked?

Sincerely,
Frank in Ft. Wayne
 
Dear Wayne,
 
It all depends on what you’re decorating. If you are trying to develop the theme “Clueless Tightwad’s Bachelor Pad,” then cracked candles are appropriate.
 
I suspect that you have written to Dear Jon in the hopes of winning an argument with your wife, girl-friend, or miscellaneous romantic preference. There is only one right answer to this question as it concerns your relationship to your “significant other,” which is, that she is right, and you are wrong.
 
If SHE thinks that cracked candles are appropriate to a room’s aesthetic collage, you have no right to be embarrassed by them. Anyone else would be able to read her mind: She is establishing rustic accents with a subversive wink at the implied pressure to conform currently prevailing in retro-contemporary bourgeois interiors.
 
If YOU think that cracked candles are as good as any other, because wax is wax, for crying out loud, then you are a clueless tightwad dork and you had better cough up the dough for some new candles before things turn ugly.

 
Dear Reader,
 
The death of Johnny Carson has caused me to reflect on the origins of my comedic frame-of-mind. Before the Comedy Channel had Friday Night Stand-up, Johnny Carson was finding great comics and putting them on his show. I started watching when I was a young boy. I stopped watching Late Night television when Carson quit.
 
Carson’s best impersonations were of President Ronald Reagan, as nearly uncanny as Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles, with a much smaller budget and only one take. Often Carson drifted into the tasteless, misestimating the value of a joke or the mood of an audience. But more often his instincts paid off, and when he did bomb, he was able to rein the audience back in with self-effacing humor.
 
I learned an invaluable life lesson when Carson segued from his monologue to another comic portion from behind the desk, put it had made for too much comedy and it was flopping. So Carson asked his director Freddy Silverman, and his band-leader Doc Severenson, if they could switch up and have the band play then instead of later. The band played. The crowd warmed up. The comedy worked again.
 
I learned that no plan is so perfect that it becomes inflexible in the face of reality. Grace is the ability to assess a situation and leverage one’s own behavior to improve the situation for everyone. Carson had the ego to be in public, night after night. He also had the humility to let the show work even if it meant admitting a joke was going wrong. I learned that ego is the power of humility, and humility is the strength of the ego.
 
Carson also paved the way for a new kind of game, where the “answer” preceded a “question.” This was pioneered by “The Amazing Carnak,” a circus fortune-teller which he invented. Many were the times that only Ed McMahon could be heard laughing, and, when booed and thus being insulted, the Amazing Carnak would invoke a curse on the audience. Those retorts were the best comedy on the program. Many more were the times that he nailed the joke. The Amazing Carnak kept coming back.
 
In tribute to Johnny Carson and the staff that helped make him great, I would like to pose some answers first, and then their questions.
 
Answer: About as good as a steak-and-cheese sandwich against Andy Reid.
Question: What are the Eagles chances against the Patriots?
 
Answer: McCain/Lieberman, Rice/Powell, Guliani/Schwarzenneger, H. Clinton/Obama.
Question: Name the pairings for the three-legged race at the next CNN picnic.
 
Answer: Donald Rumsfeld.
Question: Who is the person Iraqis most want to see at a polling station as a “human shield”?
 
Answer: “We are at war on Democracy. Anyone who votes is an enemy of God.”
Question: What is the one slogan terrorists can devise that guarantees to rally American support for Bush’s Iraq policy for another four years?
 
Answer: Spongebob Squarepants, Tinky Winky, Walt Disney Company.
Question: Give three reasons for the explosive growth of “X-box” games among kids.
 
Answer: Jay Leno, The Daily Show, Nick at Nite, Super Bowl Half-time.
Question: Name the most likely venues for the next presidential candidates to declare their runs.
 
Answer: One, two, and five.
Question: Name the amendments to the Constitution that seem to be, you know, open to discussion, because it doesn’t hurt to talk about it, right?
 
Answer: The Clinton Presidential Library.
Question: Give one example to prove that the rating “NC-17” is underused.
 
Answer: Jay Leno, David Letterman.
Question: Name two guys who just didn’t get it.

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