Ed McMahon Interview

For close to three decades he was the man who introduced Johnny Carson to t.v. viewers.

What was that like? How did he get that job? What’s he doing these days?

These are all questions we set out to find the answers to.

Q – Mr. McMahon, do you ever watch the “Tonite Show” these days?
A – Yes, I do.

Q – I should probably not single out the “Tonite Show”. Do you ever watch the late night talk shows?
A – When I’m up, I watch late night television.

Q – When I watch these shows, I’m reminded of the fact that no one can replace Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.
A – That’s very nice. Thank-you.

Q – What they’re basically doing is an imitation of what you and Johnny did. They can’t improve on what you guys did.
A – That’s very flattering. Thank-you for saying it.

Q – How did you adjust to the ending of the “Tonite Show”?
A – Well, I had a little show you may have heard of called ‘Star Search’. Did you ever hear of that?

Q – Sure.
A – Did you ever hear of ‘Bloopers and Practical Jokes’?

Q – I’ve heard of that.
A – Well, I was doing that. Did you ever hear any commercials – Budweiser, the $10 million give-a-way? Did you ever hear about that?

Q – Sure.
A – Well, that’s what I did. I continued with my career.

Q – I had no idea how much time went into that part of your career.
A – Well, I was doing ‘Star Search’ at the same time I was doing the ‘Tonite Show’. I was doing the ‘Million Dollar Give-Away’, same time I was doing the ‘Tonite Show’. I had ‘Bloopers and Practical Jokes’ with Dick Clark. So, I had a lot of things going. My career didn’t end the night we said good-bye on the ‘Tonite Show’. November 22 nd 1992, we said good-bye. I didn’t say good-bye. I went on to keep working.

Q – If my memory serves me right, didn’t you have a daughter who attended Syracuse University?
A – Yeah. Claudia. She graduated from Syracuse University.

Q – Did she go into some aspect of show-business?
A – Yeah. She was a producer for a long time. She was a talent coordinator. She worked on Star Search as a matter of fact. She worked on ABC. She did a lot of stuff in the business.

Q – During the years she studied at Syracuse University, did you ever come to town?
A – I came there and spoke one time, yes.

Q – Did you have time to explore the city?
A – Not really. I just came in. It was a rainy night. I came in as a favor to her and spoke at the broadcasting facility, and answered questions.

Q – After the taping of the “Tonight Show”, what would you do? Would you go out for dinner? Would you rehearse a skit with Johnny for the next days show?
A – Usually, I’d go out to dinner or home for dinner. We taped in the afternoon. We taped at 5:30 (p.m.). So, when the show was an hour, we finished at 6:30. So, I’d either meet some people for dinner at a restaurant or I’d go home for dinner. Most of the time I went home and had dinner.

Q – Would you rehearse those skits you’d do with Johnny?
A – Very rarely. Most of the things we did were ad-libs. We didn’t rehearse that much. If we did any rehearsing we just did it in his office. We’d look at the cards; if we had cards with questions, things like that. But, most of the stuff we did was ad-lib, right off the top.

Q – Did you ever get tired of that routine?
A – No, no. I loved it. It was great. You’d wake up every morning and know before the day was out; I’d be working with Johnny Carson. It was quite a thrill. So, I never got tired of that. I loved it.

Q – You were often referred to as a “Second Banana”. Where does that term come from?
A – That’s a Burlesque term. The ‘second banana’ was a friend of the ‘top banana’.

Q – How much competition did you have for that Tonight Show job?
A – I just got that job automatically. I’d worked for Johnny Carson for 4 years on a show called ‘Who Do You Trust’? on ABC, a game show. That was ‘live’ everyday from 3:30-4. We had worked together for 4 years before he got the ‘Tonight Show’. So, when he got the ‘Tonight Show’, he just took me with him; to be his second banana, his side-kick.

Q – What are you doing these days?
A – Well, I have a radio show called ‘Ed McMahon’s Lifestyles Live’ on the USA Radio Network and it goes around the world on Armed Forces Radio, and I do commercials. I’m writing a book about the early days of television. I wrote a book about Johnny called ‘Here’s Johnny’. So I’m a busy man. I just keep working.

Q – You actually hosted “The Tonight Show” a few times. Did you like doing that job?
A – Yes, I did. I didn’t really like that. It was one of those things where you wanted to be good as a professional. You wanted to do a good job, but you didn’t want to do too good of a job. It was a situation I didn’t really like, but, I had to do it. He was ill or something happened. It was handed to me. I usually hosted it with the bandleader. I did it a couple of times with Skitch Henderson. I did it with Milton Delug when he was a bandleader, and I did it with Doc. We’ve had three band leaders. It was just at the last minute and it was very rare. I think it happened maybe ten times over 30 years.

Q – You say you didn’t want to be “too good”. Why would that be?
A – You have to understand. You’re a performer. You’re doing this. If you had a second man that worked with you, you wouldn’t want him to replace you and then do a better job than you’re doing. So, being a second banana I wanted to keep that role pure. So, I didn’t want to be the top banana.

Q – That’s probably why you were doing so many other things, because you could’ve been that top guy.
A – Well, not necessarily. I couldn’t replace Johnny Carson. I had a lot of things going, so, I was a very happy man.

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