Ed Sullivan Show: Comedy Legends Showcase

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Throughout its historic 23-year primetime run (1948-1971), The Ed Sullivan Show brought the hottest performances from around the world and introduced emerging talent to America’s living room every Sunday night. And while the show featured some of the earliest or first televised performances of future music superstars including The Beatles, the Jackson 5, the Supremes, and the Rolling Stones, the program was also known for showcasing top comedy talent.

Here are some classic stand-up comedy routines from some true legends, with their original airdate noted.

Rodney Dangerfield – 1969

Here’s the “No Respect” legend at around 47 years old. “I remember as a kid, I had no friends. On the seesaw, I had to keep running from one end to the other.”

Robert Klein – “Substitute Teacher” – January 25, 1970

The comedian describes a highlight of all school kids. “When the kids know that you’re a substitute, they take advantage, like a forged absentee note.” And, “You do hear the Lord’s name quite a bit around schools, in an unofficial way. It usually begins with the faculty, ‘Lord, get me out of here.'”

Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks – “2000 Year Old Man” – February 12, 1961

The pair of legends weren’t always in their Nineties. Here’s an early performance of their classic routine. “2000 years ago, what was the main means of transportation,” Reiner asks. “Fear. An animal would growl and you’d run a mile in a minute.”

Joan Rivers – April 23, 1967

The self-deprecating comedienne was a mere 33 years old when she did this great routine about the hypocrisy of the difference between single men and single women. “When I was 21 my mother said, ‘Only a doctor for you.’ At 26, she said, ‘Anything.'”

Henny Youngman – 1969

Another guy who looked like he was at least 60 and, in this case, he was, with that ever-present violin! “A lot of people say, ‘How do you stay married for 41 years?’ My wife and I go to a romantic restaurant twice a week. A little candlelight, a little wine. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”

Senor Wences – “Puppets” – March 20, 1966

The Spanish ventriloquist was a month shy of his 70th birthday here. (He would live to 103!) On this appearance, he’s joined by several of his legendary puppets, switching seamlessly to a falsetto for Johnny. A true genius.

George Carlin – “Eyes, Hair, Ali, Vietnam, The Weather” – February 28, 1971

The poetic stand-up was just 33 years old when he made this appearance. The clip includes a classic Carlin rhyme.

Ed Sullivan was born September 28, 1901. The Ed Sullivan Show library of 1,000 hours includes over 10,000 performances.

Iconic clips from the vast catalog have primarily only been available in excerpted versions on EdSullivan.com or as low-resolution digital “bootlegs” (like many of the ones above). Beginning in June 2020, scores of rarities are being made available digitally for the first time, thanks to a new agreement between Universal Music and SOFA Entertainment which owns the series. Many segments have been upgraded to high-resolution clips as part of UMe’s curation efforts.

Related: Some legendary music performances on Sullivan

Best Classic Bands Staff

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