Talk host tokers
By Dana Larsen – Sunday, May 29 2005
Late night talk show hosts tend to be pot friendly
Talk show icon Johnny Carson died in January, and his death was mourned by fans around the world. But what many did not know was that, like virtually every major talk show host that followed him, Johnny Carson was a fan of the forbidden herb.
In a 1982 documentary called Johnny Goes Home, Carson took his viewers on a tour of his hometown Norfolk, Nebraska. He rode in his old High School’s homecoming parade, and also took viewers inside the local movie theater, where he explained how he and his friends had first seen the classic anti-pot propaganda film Reefer Madness.
“As a kid I did grow up in what was called an innocent age…” said Carson. “We had heard about marijuana, we weren’t very sure what it was, but we found out because one day, right up on that screen, a picture played here in the late 30’s called Reefer Madness. We didn’t know what “reefer madness” meant either, but it had to do with the evils of marijuana smoking. Wayward girls would have terrible, wanton behavior. We didn’t know what that meant, but we wanted some of that.”
Carson had previously explained his marijuana views in a 1967 interview with Playboy, when Carson was asked his thoughts on pot and LSD.
“I don’t put marijuana in the same bag with LSD or any of the hard narcotics,” said Carson. “People are wrong when they say marijuana isn’t addicting, though. I’ve known people who use it, known them all my adult life, and I know they are at least psychologically addicted. But it’s just a mild stimulant, actually. And I think that the laws against its use are repressive out of all proportion.”
Although Carson avoided openly discussing his own personal political views on his show, saying “I just don’t feel that Johnny Carson should become a social commentator,” he occasionally let his open-minded fondness for toking slip through.
Carson liked to imply that his band leader, Doc Severinsen, was a heavy pot smoker. One classic quip came when President Carter recommended in 1977 that possessing under an ounce of bud shouldn’t be illegal. “The trouble is that nobody in our band knows what an ounce or less means,” joked Carson. To which Doc replied, “It means you’re about out.”
Jay Leno took over hosting The Tonight Show in 1992, and he has made pot-friendly jokes a regular part of his monologue, continuing Carson’s tradition by implying that bandleader Kevin Eubanks is a toker.
Although we have no evidence that Leno himself partakes of the herb, he has made a point of promoting pot culture on his show. Pot icon Tommy Chong also made his first post-prison appearance on The Tonight Show, with Leno complaining about the injustice of the anti-bong laws.
David Letterman also went through a phatty phase in his younger years. In a pair of interviews with Playboy magazine, he described his pot experiences.
“I went through one period when I smoked a surprising, a really breath-taking, amount of grass almost every night,” Letterman told Playboy. “One night I smoked down a big joint and then went downstairs and ate two pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream and then went back to bed. An hour later I woke up and thought my heart had stopped. And the next day I went to a cardiologist and he said, ‘Well, no, it didn’t stop. Everything’s fine.’ And that was the end of my pot experiences.”
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a popular show among counterculture news junkies.
According to right-wing pundit Bill O’Reilly, 87% of those who watch The Daily Show are “stoned slackers.” Yet O’Reilly was forced to apologize after research by Comedy Central found that Daily Show viewers are more likely to have college degrees than those who watch The O’Reilly Factor.
Nevertheless, stoners will find favor with Stewart’s unabashedly pro-pot jokes and performances. Stewart had a cameo in Dave Chappelle’s pot-comedy Half Baked, playing the Enhancement Smoker. “You ever seen the back of a twenty on weed?” asked Stewart. “Oh, there’s some weird shit in there man. There’s a dude sitting in the bushes. Does he have a gun? I don’t know man, I don’t know. What? Red team go! Red team go!”
Conan O’Brien has always been the talk-show host most willing to educate and have fun with pot humor. One of the very first episodes of Conan’s show featured a comedian riffing off hemp humor, jokes about how hemp could be used to make paper four times more efficiently than trees.
One classic cannabis character from Conan O’Brien’s show was “Tokey the Anti-Drug Bong.” Tokey would spew anti-pot propaganda, while also spewing smoke from out of his chamber. When Conan asked Tokey what the fumes were, Tokey replied “That’s my sweet, sweet marijuana smoke. I mean I’m a bong, it happens, it’s natural. I might be giving the kids a mixed message, but man, it does smell good.”
The first host of The Tonight Show was Steve Allen, who has been an outspoken opponent of America’s drug war for many years.
In 1955, Steve Allen interviewed stoner comedian Lord Buckley (CC#53, Dead Funny). Interestingly, Lord Buckley had another unlikely friend in the TV industry.
Buckley was busted for pot possession in 1943, but the charges were dismissed thanks to intervention from Buckley’s friend,
Ed Sullivan. The multi-talented Steve Allen has another fun cannabis connection. His jazz Christmas album, Cool Yule, was recorded by ganja icon Louis Armstrong.