Grade: B+
Entire family:  Heck no
1976-91, 499 min. (9 full shows), Color
Talk-Variety
Not rated (would be PG for sexual innuendo, jokes)
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  n/a
Clip of Eddie Murphy monologue (PG-rated)

On one of the nine episodes included on this three-disc installment of Johnny and Friends: Steve Martin, Robin Williams, & Eddie Murphy, guest Phyllis Newman complains that Williams is a tough act to follow, adding there’s nothing left for her to do but take off her clothes. “Please don’t do that,” Carson says. “This is a family show.”

“What family?” Williams asks. “Weird family. Weird families living in caves somewhere,” Carson says to audience laughter.

As the topic turns to Carson’s divorces, Williams intones, “Divorce—from the old Latin divorcero, which means Having your genitals pulled out through your wallet. You can kiss your assets goodbye.” Then, a few minutes later into Williams’ non-stop improvisations, “I have learned the difference between love and lust. Lust never costs over $200.” I have never seen a talk show break down into comic chaos like this episode featuring Williams and Newman.

Families who only know Williams from voicing the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin or Murphy as the voice of Donkey in Shrek and Mushu in Mulan might find it shocking the amount of sexual innuendo and sex jokes fast-talking guests were able to get away with on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. But remember: it was late-night TV. Your family doesn’t have to be weird to appreciate these nine full episodes, but your children definitely have to be in their mid-to-late teens.

Johnny Carson wasn’t the first host of The Tonight Show (he followed originator Steve Allen and Jack Parr) nor the last. But he was popular and his 30 years as host stand as a record that will probably never be broken. He was accompanied by sidekick announcer Ed McMahon (“He-earrrrrrs Johnny!”), band leader Doc Severinson, substitute band leader Tommy Neusom, and a parade of guests, most of them promoting movies, books, and record albums. There are several installments of “Stump the Band” that aren’t as funny as others, and a completely dead “Might Carson Art Players” sketch that flops. But two segments that Carson does from his desk are very funny, and his opening monologues continue to be a study in stand-up comedy delivery.

Time Life already released all of these episodes on larger collections of Johnny and Friends, but fans of Martin, Williams, and Murphy will enjoy seeing three episodes each from the many appearances they made on the show. The earliest episode is from 1976, Carson’s 14th season as host of the popular talk-variety show. Here’s what’s included:

Steve Martin
Original Show Airdate: 07/21/76
Steve Martin, Jimmy Stewart, Karen Black
—Original Show Airdate: 05/21/82
Steve Martin, Sylvester Stallone
—Original Show Airdate: 12/19/91
Steve Martin, Cathy Ladman, Leon Redbone

Robin Williams
Original Show Airdate: 04/3/84
Robin Williams, Phyllis Newman
—Original Show Airdate: 01/10/91
Robin Williams, Steve Lawrence
—Original Show Airdate: 09/19/91
Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters

Eddie Murphy
Original Show Airdate: 01/1/82
Eddie Murphy, McLean Stevenson
—Original Show Airdate: 02/10/82
Eddie Murphy, Wayne Rogers, Albert Hague
—Original Show Airdate: 07/30/82
Eddie Murphy, Randall “Tex” Cobb, Angela Bofill

Williams is the funniest and Murphy holds his own—especially when he shocks TV viewers by proposing to lead the audience in a soul-cleansing shouting of the “n” word. It could have been a drumroll countdown to disaster, but with Carson’s permission Murphy went for it and it made his routine based on race uncomfortably but spot-on funny. The only weak link on this set is Martin, who is surprisingly unfunny. You find yourself wishing they had included another comedian instead. Even Sylvester Stallone and Jimmy Stewart are more amusing, and fans of It’s a Wonderful Life will enjoy hearing Stewart talk about the film. But it is interesting to see film clips from the comedians’ “coming to theaters” movies that we’re now well familiar with.

If your family is like mine, they may actually enjoy the commercials as much as the show. It’s fun seeing commercials from 35-40 years ago, and viewers have the option of watching the nine shows with or without original commercials.

But remember, this is late-night viewing . . . for “weird families” only.

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