The Best Comedic Debuts on 'The Tonight Show'

Legendary sets that made careers of Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Roseanne and more

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David Brenner

Long before Seinfeld hit the scene, David Brenner was the unabashed master of observational comedy. On January 8th, 1971, when he appeared on The Tonight Show for the first time, he introduced much of his audience to the colloquial question that is foundational to all of those who focus on the minutia of human behavior, "Did you ever notice…?" While everyday, political stuff was Mort Sahl's stock-in-trade, Brenner exhibited his strength in analyzing the behavior of men asking for directions, gas stations and commuters in Manhattan. And make no mistake, when Carson says Brenner is "warped," that's not an exaggeration. 

The gawky, angular guy with the gigantic smile doesn't just talk about the size of road maps and the hunting caps worn by gas station attendants, he has also invented some very strange what-if scenarios. His big closer is about committing the perfect murder by lugging the corpse into the aforementioned crush of morning commuters in New York City. Buoyed by the bodies of others, the corpse goes on an adventure through Macy's, the Army induction center, onstage with the Rockettes, and up Broadway where it gets "mugged twice… and raped once." Brenner's set is at once strange and relatable, and Carson reportedly wanted him back the following week. He went on to become one of Carson's favorite guests, and on the short list of comics to ascend the throne when Carson left.

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