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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Freddie Prinze

There's a point at which the audience watching Freddie Prinze's December 6th, 1973 set seems to realize something: This babyfaced Latino kid with the fuzzy, pencil-drawn mustache isn't just good, he's really something. Up top, Prinze sets the stage: He's half Hungarian and half Puerto Rican ("Hungarican"), he lives in Washington Heights and he's deals with the nuisances of supers and roaches. It's got everything needed to seduce an audience: A clear point-of-view, an effective delivery, an open, easy presence and good, hard jokes. It's even got a catch phrase that becomes a callback later in the set, first spoken by Prinze's Mexican landlord and later repeated by the Puerto Rican astronaut of Prinze's dreams, both abdicating professional responsibilities: "Ees not my job, man." Less than a year after this set aired, Prinze was starring in Chico and the Man. And, tragically, the ride proved too much for Prinze, who died not two years afterward at the age of 22. Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers have all talked about feeling comfortable and successful on Carson only after several appearances; Prinze made it all happen in just one.

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