The great Billy Wilder, writer and director of such classic motion pictures as “Stalag 17,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Apartment” and “Some Like It Hot,” wrote an eloquent description of the mystique that made Tonight Show host Johnny Carson so popular.
Wilder wrote, “By the simple law of survival, Carson is the best. He enchants the invalids and the insomniacs as well as the people who have to get up at dawn. He is the Valium and the Nembutal of a nation.”
What an interesting compliment. Only the creative mind of Billy Wilder could praise someone by comparing him to not one, but two drugs.
While we don’t purport to know what substances the following individuals consume or consumed, in the public interest, convenience and necessity, we bring you the following speculation on what drugs these talk show hosts would be if they were, in fact, drugs.
Let’s start with Carson’s fellow Tonight Show hosts. The current holder of that endowed chair, Jay Leno, would be coffee (Caffeine is a drug, you know). Leno is pedestrian, smooth and readily available. One night he can be a latte; the next night he can be a generic blend.
The first Tonight Show host, Steve Allen, was witty and intellectual and could be either refreshingly insightful or downright silly. Allen would be a dessert wine, a little stimulation to go with the frivolous frosting.
Allen’s successor, Jack Paar, was a smart, sensitive man who empathized with his audiences and with his guests, especially those guests who were terribly vulnerable, like Judy Garland or Oscar Levant. Jack, God rest his soul, would be Midol.
Spurned by the NBC suits for Leno, David Letterman had to find a way to calm down without losing his edge. Letterman would be a satisfying marijuana cigarette, a joint that gets you high enough to relax without getting you stupid enough to sacrifice all mental control.
Conan O’Brien, the red-haired, fair-skinned former Late Night and Tonight Show host, would be a beer with a sly, subtle flavor consumed heartily in an Irish pub.
Oprah Winfrey, who has gone from hosting her own talk show to owning her own network, would be Dom Perignon. After all, she can afford it.
Ellen DeGeneres would be chocolate. Her devotees are, indeed, addicted to her because she’s sweet to one and all.
The most sardonic hosts on cable, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, go in different directions. Colbert’s character, not Colbert himself, is Red Bull because he’s hyper and full of it – bull, that is. Stewart is ginseng root because he’s all natural and he always gives you something to chew on.
Heroin is the only drug I can think of for Bill Maher, a hilarious, highly outspoken topical comedian. The withdrawal symptoms are hell, but you keep coming back for more.
Bill O’Reilly must be bath salts because they’re so dangerous and because, as we all know, bath salts go nicely with loofahs (Google it if you don’t get it).
What about me?
These days, I’m Advil. I just want to relieve the pain.