Reg Lenna Center For The Arts, NCC To Host Johnny Carson Tribute Performance Saturday

Part of the National Comedy Center's exhibit featuring Johnny Carson is pictured during a pre-show opening during last week's 2022 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. Submitted photo

The National Comedy Center will present Carson Tonight: Johnny’s Comedy and Variety Acts Live!, an on-stage comedy and variety tribute to Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, on Saturday at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.

The event also marks the official opening of the National Comedy Center’s new multi-screen exhibit, Johnny Carson: The Immersive Experience, celebrating Carson’s career and legacy within the museum.

A roster of talented artists and personalities from Carson’s 30-year late-night run reconnect in Jamestown on Saturday. Hosted by Seinfeld writer Pat Hazell, who conceived the idea and who performed on Carson’s Tonight Show in 1989, the show will feature master magician Lance Burton, comedian Cathy Ladman, ventriloquist Jay Johnson, wildlife expert Joan Embery, champion storyteller Don Reed, The Passing Zone juggling team Jon Wee and Owen Morse, Mighty Carson Art Player Teresa Ganzel and Jeff Sotzing, Carson Entertainment Group president.

“Throughout Johnny’s 30 years at The Tonight Show, he loved to showcase exceptional talent — from stand-up comedy to magic to variety of all kinds,” said Sotzing, who is also a former producer of Carson’s Tonight Show. “What a joy it will be to reunite with such a stellar lineup of Tonight Show guests as we remember and honor Johnny at the National Comedy Center, and open this state-of-the-art exhibit celebrating his extraordinary career.”

Featured guests include:

• Magician Lance Burton spent three decades as a Las Vegas headliner performing over 15,000 shows. Carson once said of Burton, “A beautiful class act. The best I’ve ever seen.”

• Cathy Ladman made nine appearances on The Tonight Show and won an American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-up Comic

• Jay Johnson a Tony award-winning ventriloquist and comic best known for playing the roles of Bob & Chuck on the TV series Soap.

• Joan Embery raises awareness of animals and wildlife conservation through her books, tours and television appearances. She was a favorite guests of Carson’s and appeared with him more than 70 times on The Tonight Show.

• The Passing Zone juggling duo were finalists on America’s Got Talent and are regulars on Penn & Teller’s: Fool Us. They deliver high octane entertainment packed with laughs and wild stunts.

• Don Reed is a comic storyteller who was awarded best performance of the year by NPR’s Snap Judgement in 2016.

• Teresa Ganzel made many appearances with Carson in the role of the Matinee Lady a member in the popular “Tea Time Movie” skits.

“As we mark the 30th anniversary year of Johnny’s final Tonight Show, this National Comedy Center event is such a special way to salute Johnny and the amazing performers that he featured every night at 11:30,” Hazell said. “We’re excited to bring such a talented group together for a one-night-only celebration, as we relive the laughter and magic of that incredible era in late night television. Each of these performers are the absolute best at what they do – comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, jugglers – they are all remarkably and uniquely talented. And when Johnny Carson presented them, there’s no question that he lit the rocket for their careers — there was no better seal of approval or more important way to shine than on Johnny’s Tonight Show. Most of these artists were brought back on the show multiple times, because Johnny truly loved what they could do, as did television viewers nationwide.

Tickets for this event are available at ComedyCenter.org/festival.


The National Comedy Center celebrates the Carson within its museum this summer with a new multi-screen exhibit, as the 60th anniversary year of his extraordinary run as the host NBC’s The Tonight Show is marked, as well as the 30th anniversary year of his final broadcast. Johnny Carson: The Immersive Experience will officially open on Saturday, August 13th in the National Comedy Center’s state-of-the-art theater, but a “sneak preview” of the exhibit in development is now being presented within the museum.

This new theatrical experience includes 30 digital projection screens that surround the audience, as well as newly-enhanced holographic technology. Video presentations will feature interviews with Steve Martin, Martin Short, Bette Midler, Jay Leno, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Byron Allen, George Lopez, Carol Leifer, George Wallace, Paula Poundstone, Conan O’Brien, Sebastian Maniscalco and more, along with archival video from Carson’s Tonight Show, including legendary Carson monologues and classic Carson characters like Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo and Art Fern. Historic Tonight Show performances by many of stand-up comedy’s greatest talents will also be featured.

The National Comedy Center exhibit will not only showcase Carson’s career, but also highlight The Tonight Show’s formative and pivotal role as the most influential platform for stand-up comedy during the three decades that Carson served as the show’s host.

A special highlight of the exhibit is a display of Tonight Show artifacts and wardrobe in the Comedy Center’s galleries, including a portion of the original, iconic Tonight Show rainbow curtain, Johnny’s wardrobe for classic characters Art Fern and Floyd R. Turbo, a jacket worn by Tonight Show band leader Doc Severinsen, and the dress worn by Bette Midler during her memorable appearance as the final guest on Johnny’s Tonight Show.

Sotzing, president of Carson Entertainment Group and Carson’s nephew, provided the Comedy Center rare Carson documents and creative papers for the center’s permanent archival collection. Sotzing held multiple production roles at The Tonight Show and has managed Johnny Carson’s legacy and program licensing since Carson’s retirement in 1992.

“Johnny Carson is one of the most beloved and influential late-night hosts of all time. For 30 years, Johnny kept the country laughing through good times and bad, while also introducing us to many of the greatest stand-up comedians ever to take the stage,” said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center executive director. “The story of comedy in America simply cannot be told properly without presenting Johnny Carson’s enormous and invaluable contribution to the art form. We are excited to be partnering with Carson Entertainment Group to open this new immersive experience and preserve Johnny’s legacy for generations to come.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today