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

Garry Shandling

Though Garry Shandling had spent the late-1970s writing for sitcoms such as Sanford & Son and Welcome Back, Kotter, he migrated to the world of stand-up comedy in order to push himself and nudge the boundaries of comedy, too. His March 18th, 1981 Tonight Show appearance, one of his first TV gigs, finds him chipper despite his nerves, and toying with a subtle subversion even while working in an observational mode. One bit begins, "I ate dinner last night at a friend of mine's house and he has a—what do you call those things—baby?" From there, the baby "loads up" its diaper and its mother says, "‘Isn't that adorable? Brandon made a gift for daddy.' Now I'm figuring this guy's got to be real easy to shop for on Father's Day." Ingratiating, clever and playfully nervous, Shandling caught Carson's eye and would return regularly to fill in for the host over the years; though Shandling never completely abandoned stand-up, he left behind real talk shows when creating his own fake one on The Larry Sanders Show.

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