In 1962, future Pulitzer Prize–winning author Alex Haley sat down with jazz musician Miles Davis for what would become an institution of American journalism—the Playboy Interview. To celebrate the Interview’s 50th anniversary, Playboy has culled 50 of its most (in)famous Interviews and will publish them over the course of 50 weekdays (from September 4, 2012 to November 12, 2012) via Amazon’s Kindle Direct platform. Here, a glimpse at our conversation with The Tonight Show Host Johnny Carson from the December 1967 issue.
“When a comic becomes enamored with his own views and foists them off on the public in a polemic way, he loses not only his sense of humor but his value as a humorist.”
“Like most people, of course, I have strong personal opinions. I might even be better informed than the average person, just because it’s my business to keep up on what’s happening. But that doesn’t mean I should use the show to impose my personal views on millions of people. We have dealt with controversial subjects on the show—sex, religion, Vietnam, narcotics. They’ve all been discussed, by qualified guests, and I’ve taken stands myself. But it’s only when the subject rises naturally. I won’t purposely inject controversy just for the sake of controversy. It would be easy, if that’s what I wanted. I could get in the headlines any day by attacking a major public figure like Bobby Kennedy or by coming out in favor of birth control or abortion. But I just don’t see it, and I don’t play it that way. I won’t make this show a forum for my own political views.”
“Once on the show, somebody asked me where tomorrow’s comedians were coming from, and I told him, based upon my recent observations, from the Democratic and Republican parties.”
“Sure, there’s a lot of chaff on television. No doubt of it. But let’s not forget a fundamental fact about this medium. It starts in the morning, about six a.m., and goes off anywhere from one to three a.m. Where are you going to find the people to write consistently fine material 19 to 21 hours a day, 365 days a year? A Broadway play that’s going to run for 90 minutes can take a year or more to get written, by the biggest playwrights in the business; then it can spend months and months on the road, being tested every night and changed daily; they can bring in the best script doctors in the country—and yet that play can still open on Broadway and bomb out the first night. How can you expect television to do any better—or even as well—when it’s showing more in a week than appears on Broadway all year? I’m not defending the medium just because I’m in it; I’m just trying to explain that television has an impossible task. Why should it be the job of television to educate or edify or uplift people? This is an entertainment medium.”
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