workin’ man. That description fits Johnny Carson. He was closer to being the Will Rogers of our day than anyone.
I was invited to appear on the Tonight Show as one of several talented cowboy poets. But when the cowboy poets, the 100-year-old woman and the talking dog got on his show it was because we fell between the cracks. We didn’t have agents or managers or Hollywood contacts.
So when a group of unsophisticated, nonprofessional, country raised cowboy poets came into his spotlight we were ripe for ridicule. The butt of some cynical talk show host’s jibe.
But Johnny didn’t do that. He treated us with respect and let us tell our stories. We were so different than anything on the air. We were authentic. Our stories weren’t filled with smut and sexual innuendo, and, to our credit, we were clever.
I was on six times. I was always made welcome and befriended by the crew and often was invited to stay after the show for a little private recital.
People asked me what Johnny Carson was like. I only know what you saw on television. After every show he would walk off stage to be picked up by two security guards and escorted to his dressing room. Once after a show he slipped out the back but quickly returned to report there was a person in the parking lot. The guards removed the person and Johnny was free to walk to his car.
That tiny bit of insight led me to realize how protective he was of his privacy. He lived in a sea of people who knew him intimately. Who would feel comfortable asking him about his wives, his houses, his habits, his golf game and his family in Nebraska. We knew him almost as family. We forgot that he didn’t know us. It is the curse of the famous. They cannot be themselves or lead a normal life. We won’t let them. Paparazzi predators, opportunists and pathological fans wait to invade their space and steal a piece of their soul.
I have videos of my appearances on his show. I watched them again after I heard the news of his death. It gave me great pleasure to see him laugh at my poems. In my little part of the show business world it is one of my greatest treasures.