Craig Ferguson is the new Johnny Carson, thinks Drew Carey, because, like Carson, Ferguson’s got the knack of making everyone on his show feel like his equal and he actually listens to what his guests are saying during interviews.
“Johnny had it in spades,” Carey told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2012 during a Q&A session for PBS’s upcoming “American Masters” docu about the longrunning star of NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”
Ferguson, with whom Carey worked on his ABC sitcom, “has it in spades too.”
And yet, Carey admitted that when he first heard Ferguson got the CBS late-night gig, following David Letterman, “I thought to myself it was a joke.”
But, “of all the people I knew that needed a show named after themselves, Craig Ferguson was the one,” Carey added.
Carey, who credits Carson with making his career, reminded TV critics that he was one of only a select few comics Carson invited to sit on his couch after their first comedy performance on “Tonight.” Carey likened it to the time he joined a Pentecostal church and he went up during an altar call, and “rolled around, talked in tongues, all that stuff you heard about” and “got saved.”
“Being called over to the couch on the Johnny Carson show was the closest thing I ever came to that.
“I’m not even saying that as a joke,” Carey insisted, when some critics tittered.
“There was just like this feeling of, you really do[feel] the Holy Spirit going through you, and your body changing, and you feel like something’s changed in your life forever and ever. That’s what I felt like going over there…I felt like I was in a dream the whole time and it was like being saved by Jesus — honestly.”
The documentary — by filmmaker Peter Jones, whose films for PBS include “Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times” and “Goldwyn” — includes an interview with only one of Carson’s four wives and few other relatives.
“The others,” said Jones, “worried that Johnny was still looking over their shoulder.”
Intensely private Carson did not want this documentary to be made, ignoring Jones’s pitch for years, before finally calling him to say, as Jones put it, “I won’t be doing anything about my life because you know what? I don’t give a sh--. I’ve done everything I want to do and said everything I want to say.”
Carson did joke a lot about having married often but, Jones insisted, it all traces back to his relationship with his mother. You know where this is going:
“He tried to get her approval and her love and she withheld it, no matter what he did,” said Jones.
“When he premiered…an interviewer asked Mrs. Carson what she thought. She said, ‘I really liked Jack Paar. Johnny’s not as controversial’.”