On October 1, 1962, a 36-year-old Nebraska native named Johnny Carson began his epochal reign as host of The Tonight Show. His first guests were Joan Crawford, Groucho Marx, Rudy Vallée, Mel Brooks, and Tony Bennett. The program was broadcast from 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City until it moved to Burbank in 1972.
Because of Carson, television would never be the same. 30 years, 23,000 guests, and nearly 5,000 shows later, Carson remained King of Late Night. And not only was Carson the guy who kept America up way past bedtime for generations, his stamp of approval could make your career. “No show has ever had such impact on standup comedy like The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was the holy grail of what a standup comedian could achieve,” says Rick Newman, founder of the legendary comedy club Catch a Rising Star. “And if you were lucky to get the nod from Carson, to sit on the couch, that was career-changing. The next day, managers, agents, and studios called. If you were booked at any of the clubs, your price just went up.”