Johnny Carson Got Sucker-Punched By A Baboon on ‘The Tonight Show’ in 1991 With Wildlife Expert Jim Fowler: Watch

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Monkey see, monkey do. In 1991, this baboon went absolutely bananas appearing on “The Tonight Show” with host Johnny Carson. And the results were hilariously memorable.

Animals and late shows just go hand and hand. It’s been a tactic many talk show hosts have used over the years. Viewers like animals and a little show ‘n tell occasionally with their nightly television. But none have done it perhaps as iconic as Johnny Carson.

Wildlife expert Jim Fowler guested on the show in the 1990s. But he brought along one of his wildlife friends as well. Okay, so technically it isn’t an actual baboon. But Fowler brought along a Celebes ape with him. Both are closely related, and sometimes people mistake a Celebes ape for a baboon. According to Fowler, “few animals in the world are worshipped as an ancestor to a human being.”

But this particular Celebes ape decided to go to war with one of his descendants – Johnny Carson. Things went off the rails when the ape spotted a banana on Carson’s desk. It jumped from Fowler’s lap and took up a position on Carson’s desk. It refused to listen to Fowler, knocking over a stool in response. “How long have you had him under control, Jim?” Carson deadpanned.

The ape started swatting at Carson’s attempts to retrieve the banana. “Okay I don’t want it,” Carson said.

Johnny Carson Got Sucker-Punched

Ironically, the Celebes ape was named Doc. Because it brought Johnny Carson only pain. Jumping from the chair to a nearby table, Carson tried to assist Fowler in getting Doc to sit on a stool. But instead, Doc delivered some four knuckled fury Carson’s way.

First, it latched on to Carson’s arm and pushed him back. Then, Doc flew off the stool and delivered a flying sucker-punch against the talk show host. But Carson decided to play the moment off as a light-hearted joke. He struck a karate pose and challenged the animal, striking the air between them with a few karate chops.

But Doc wasn’t done just yet creating chaos. He also knocked off Carson’s mug of coffee spilling the contents on the floor. Carson decided to have a bit of fun at the ape’s expense. Carson briefly taunted the animal with a thing of grapes. But Doc greedily grabbed the fruit from Carson’s hands and began eating it.

The night was chaotic. But it’s everything that viewers could ask for and it shows why many consider Carson the king of late-night comedy.