The latest Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson release from Time Life collects Volumes 2, 7, and 10 of the "Featured Guest Series" in a three-disc set with each disc focusing on one classic comedian for a total of nine episodes.
Disc 1 / Volume 7 features Steve Martin from July 21, 1976; May 21, 1982; and December 19, 1991. On the '76 episode, the only one is this set when the show ran 90 minutes, Martin comes out after Jimmy Stewart and performs stand-up, some of which appeared on his debut album Let's Get Small. He then got a segment on the couch. By '82, Martin was doing movies and is on to promote Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid after Sylvester Stallone promotes Rocky III. Martin is the first guest in '91, the night before Father of the Bride hit theaters. Airing just before Xmas, the show also had Leon Redbone singing "Christmas Island."
Disc 2 / Volume 2 features Robin Williams from April 3, 1984; January 10, 1991; and September 19, 1991. The '84 episode finds him promoting Moscow on the Hudson and interacting during Phyllis Newman's segment. For those that don't like his manic riffs, the Jan. '91 episode reveals another side as he talks seriously about Awakenings and the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks, whom he portrayed. Singer Steve Lawrence is a fan of Williams and keeps egging him on once he gets to the couch after his two numbers. The Sept. '91 show is an absolute classic as Williams and Jonathan Winters get to play together. Williams is promoting The Fisher King and talks about currently filming Hook. Then Winters comes out, who was on a TV series called Davis Rules. One almost feels bad for actress Park Overall, who had to come out after them, but the two men are so funny together, it's worth it.
Disc 3 / Volume 10 features Eddie Murphy over seven months in 1982: January 1, February 10, and July 30 The January episode was Murphy's first appearance. He performs stand-up and sits on the couch. There is a warning about glitches and the sound dropping out during Ed McMahon's introduction because singer Linda Hopkins failed to appear. Returning after about six and a half weeks, Murphy does more stand up, starting off with a shocking bit asking the audience to scream "nigger" (with his permission). On the July episode, Murphy's career is skyrocketing. In addition to Saturday Night Live, he was shooting 48 Hours and had just released his debut comedy album.
In addition to how wonderful it is having Carson's Tonight Show at one's fingertips, it is interesting to compare the different styles of the comedians. Martin's material is well prepared, even when the bits seem silly and unplanned. Williams is a wild improviser who keeps the cameramen and boom operator busy. Murphy is a more traditional stand-up in the Richard Pryor mode, infusing racial observations in his material. All three have the same goal, making people laugh, and they achieved it.
This set is recommended for fans of Johnny Carson and the three featured guests. The inclusion of the original commercials is a fun, welcome addition.