In his 30+ years hosting TV talk shows, Johnny Carson has seen and done a lot of wild things — and we’re not just talking about his fellow comedians. The lovable, ridiculous host also met dozens of animals on the show, but perhaps none are as etched in his memory as the cheetahs.
In the 1974 episode, Carson casually talks to zoologist Joan Embery while bending over a cage containing two cheetahs, baring Carson’s fangs. “Just relax,” he says to the big cats. He then turns his attention to Embery and says confidently, “They say that if you look an animal in the face and talk to it, they know you’re not afraid.”
As soon as he finishes the sentence, one of the cheetahs jumps up and smacks Carson, sending the seemingly unafraid host running. He leaps up, prances across the stage, and leaps into the waiting arms of Ed McMahon, who is clinging for his life.
It was Carson at his best, turning legitimate fear into comedic gold with the support of McMahon, his longtime pal and close friend. The two worked together on the game show Who Do You Trust? before spending 30 years together on The Tonight Show.
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