Last night, we saw “Christmas Vacation” in a theater. Of all the movies I’ve seen in my life, I think this is the one I’ve seen the most. In the 30 years it’s been around, I may have missed one or two seasons. It’s one of those movies that I remember laughing my ass off the first time I see, and that’s why I can still laugh now.
The first time I saw it was when it came out in 1989. I was in college and over Christmas Break and visiting my parents who were in San Diego at the time. The other movie we saw was “War of the Roses”.
We did a shit ton of stuff on that trip including the Rose Bowl Parade, the NBC studio tour, and a Luau for New Year’s Eve.
The best part of the trip was seeing the Tonight Show live. It was the last show of the decade, and Johnny Carson was still the host. Dad managed to get some standby tickets by phone that morning. It meant getting in line a couple hours before the show to improve our chances of getting in.
The show had everything for a Tonight Show fan. The guests were Tim Conway, Park Overall (from “Empty Nest”), and a juggler who played a piano with his balls. Get your mind out of the gutter, and watch the video to see what I meant. For a bonus, there was a Mighty Carson Art Players sketch with Johnny and Tim Conway doing something about golf I think.
Before the show, we took the NBC tour. The thing I recall most about that was seeing gameshow sets and how flimsy they were up close. I think it was the “Jokers Wild” set that looked like something from a high school stage play.
While waiting in line for the show, the Tonight Show band walked by having just wrapped up their happy hour at the bar across the street.
During the tour, we got to go back stage. We even saw the star on the floor where Johnny stood during his monologues. What struck me was how small the whole thing is. From TV, the stage looked huge, but the distance from Johnny’s desk to the band was only like 20 feet.
Ed McMahon warmed the crowd up with some slightly dirty jokes. After Jonny’s monologue, they broke for a commercial and he talked to the audience. Someone asked him about his car, and he made a joke about how hard it shifting a manual 6-speed can be in LA traffic.
It was cool to see him in the flesh, but even impressive how he could think on his feet and be funny just interacting with the audience,
After the show as we were driving back to the hotel, Johnny pulled out of the NBC lot and right in front of us on Alameda avenue. We drove behind him for a couple blocks before he exited onto the freeway. What was most surprising to us, was he hadn’t stuck around after the show any longer than we did.