‘The Tonight Show’: Ed McMahon Recalls Carnac Line That Sent Him, Johnny Carson Into Uncontrollable Laughter

by Joe Rutland
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Anyone who was a fan of the classic TV show The Tonight Show knows that Johnny Carson added a different touch with characters. From Aunt Blabby to editorial response pro Floyd R. Turbo, the different ones in the Carson catalog always bring laughs.

One of his most popular ones was Carnac The Magnificent, a sage, wise man who could come up with questions based on answers. There was one specific night, though, where Carnac (or Carson, if you will) and Ed McMahon started laughing and couldn’t stop. After their run on the NBC talk show ended, McMahon talked about this moment at great length.

“One night, he did tell me something about a show, it was the only time it ever happened,” McMahon said in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation. “He (Carson) said, ‘There’s a line in Carnac that’s gonna put you away.’ Now that phrase ‘put you away’ has to do with ‘it’s gonna wipe you out, you will not be able to go on after that’.”

McMahon said he knew that the line was coming up but he didn’t know the specific line. At this point in the interview, the longtime sidekick to Carson reflects on the Carnac process. If you have never seen the bit, then Carson, as Carnac, gets an envelope from McMahon. He holds it up to his forehead and looks to ascertain the question from the answer.

Giggling Between Sidekick, Carnac Becomes Too Much To Not Ignore

“He’s getting it, getting it, and I can see the look in his eyes, those steely blues of his,” McMahon said. “I can see the look and I know that this is the one. So I start reacting, a little giggling. He says, ‘I must have (silence)’ and now he starts. He hasn’t said the line. And this was the most popular line of all of Carnac.”

McMahon said that he’d get letters from college kids at the time. How did the line get set up? Apparently, there were some kids who wanted to know the nuances of comedy. OK, by now Carnac has the envelope. Both McMahon and Carson find themselves with an uncontrollable giggle going down.

“And he said, ‘Sis. Boom. Bah,'” McMahon said. “And I repeat, of course, ‘Sis. Boom. Bah.’ ‘What is the sound made by an exploding sheep?’ ‘Sis. Boom. Bah.’ Now we both laughed…I know for a minute. We just couldn’t go on. Not only was I blown away, he couldn’t go on to the next thing.” After delivering the line, McMahon, Carson, and The Tonight Show crowd didn’t hold back in their laughter one bit.

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