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National Comedy Center to preserve historic Johnny Carson archive

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Fri, Oct 23rd 2020 05:55 pm

New Johnny Carson exhibits to debut in 2021 & 2022 in partnership with Elkhorn Valley Museum, Carson Entertainment Group 

As the country remembers comedy and late-night legend Johnny Carson on his 95th birthday, the National Comedy Center – the nation’s official cultural institution dedicated to comedy – and the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska, announced the National Comedy Center will lead preservation of the historic Johnny Carson archives.

The rich archive includes screen-used artifacts, wardrobe, creative documents and awards that will be jointly exhibited by the National Comedy Center and the Elkhorn Valley Museum. The National Comedy Center will oversee the digital preservation and conservation of this historic collection, which chronicles Carson’s early life, career and legendary 30-year reign as the king of late night television and one of the most beloved personalities in comedy history.

The Elkhorn Valley Museum will debut a new and significantly-expanded Johnny Carson Gallery by early 2021 with new artifacts, memorabilia, awards and interactive experiences. The exhibition gallery will trace the path Carson took across the years from Norfolk to New York City to California and back again, as Norfolk celebrates and remembers one of its favorite sons for his enduring legacy in entertainment. The opening of the expanded gallery will kick off the milestone 30th anniversary year of Carson’s return to his beloved hometown to film his Emmy Award-winning NBC special “Johnny Goes Home.”

In 2022, the National Comedy Center will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Carson’s legendary run as the host of “The Tonight Show” with a new multimedia exhibit, “30 Years of Late Night Television, 30 Years Later,” at the state-of-the-art museum in Jamestown. The exhibit will feature never-before-seen documents and creative papers (including “Tonight Show” monologues personally annotated by Carson), rare artifacts and wardrobe, and archival video from Carson’s storied television career. Curated selections from “The Tonight Show” will present a comedic time capsule of world events for three decades, including legendary monologues, classic Carson characters such as Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo and Art Fern, and historic performances by many of stand-up comedy’s greatest talents – often seen in their earliest national television appearances.

The National Comedy Center exhibit will not only showcase Carson’s career, but highlight “The Tonight Show’s” formative and pivotal role as the most influential platform for stand-up comedy during the three decades Carson served as the show’s host.

Carson Entertainment Group President Jeff Sotzing and the Elkhorn Valley Museum selected the nonprofit National Comedy Center – recently named the "Best New Museum" in the country by USA Today and one of the "World's Greatest Places” by TIME magazine – to lead preservation of the Johnny Carson Archive, while ensuring that Carson’s hometown history museum will continue to showcase his formative years in Nebraska and a legendary entertainment career.

Sotzing, Carson’s nephew, will also be providing the National Comedy Center with thousands of rare documents and creative papers for the center’s permanent archival collection. Sotzing held multiple production roles at “The Tonight Show” and has managed Carson's legacy and program licensing since the icon’s retirement in 1992.

“Johnny Carson is one of the most beloved and influential late night hosts of all time. For 30 years, Johnny kept the country laughing through good times and bad, while also introducing us to many of the greatest stand-up comedians ever to take the stage,” National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson said. “The story of comedy in America simply cannot be told properly without presenting Johnny Carson’s enormous and invaluable contribution to the art form. We are excited to be partnering with the Elkhorn Valley Museum and Carson Entertainment Group to preserve Johnny’s legacy for generations to come.”

“We’re tremendously excited about the upcoming expansion of our Johnny Carson Gallery at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Johnny’s hometown of Norfolk,” stated Austen Hagood of the Elkhorn Valley Museum board of directors. “And we’re so pleased to be joining forces with the National Comedy Center so that together we can continue to present Johnny’s story, his Norfolk roots and his remarkable career to comedy fans around the world.”

“Johnny Carson personally directed that the television memorabilia in his office be placed in the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, Nebraska, his boyhood home. The fact that the National Comedy Center is located in the hometown of Lucille Ball, and that these two cultural institutions are working together to preserve comedy history is very exciting. Time goes by so quickly and people forget how good these two performers really were. The preservation of their careers and legacies is so very important,” Sotzing said. “I am honored to be a part of this new partnership and look forward to seeing it keep comedy alive.”

As the National Comedy Center develops its 60th anniversary Carson exhibit, its archival team will be reaching out to former production staff and crew for Carson’s “Tonight Show” for additional archival material, as well as to guest stars and stand-up comedians who made notable appearances, in order to create the most comprehensive presentation of his legacy ever assembled in exhibit form.

The National Comedy Center and the Elkhorn Valley Museum will also collaborate on future exhibits and special projects and share access to archival materials that celebrate the life, career and legacy of Carson. 

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