If you were a fan of “The Tonight Show With #Johnny Carson,” you certainly knew the name Joan Embery, who made numerous appearances bringing live animals from the San Diego Zoo to the show where Carson reacted and interacted with them. On Oct. 4, some of those appearances became be available in stores in a new 6-DVD set of “The Johnny Carson Tonight Show: The Vault Series,” available at Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Costco, Walmart and other retailers. We recently talked with Embery by phone.
Steve Marinucci: How many times did you appear on the show?
Joan Embery: Well, I think we did probably about 70 with Johnny. And if you include Jay, closer to 100 “Tonight Shows” over the years. Quite a few. And I'd say probably we took over 500 animals over the years, wild animals, many of which had been seen live on #TV before.
Steve Marinucci: Was there any preparation with Johnny before hand?
Joan Embery: No. Johnny wanted it spontaneous. He didn't really want to know what was there. He just wanted to come out and fly by the seat of his pants, so to speak. Which was actually fun because so much of television is totally pre-written, pre-programmed right down to every second. But it was Johnny's show. Johnny ran the show. So the talent coordinator would do a rundown of the order of the animals and where the commercial breaks were most likely to occur. They do questions for Johnny and all of that. But when Johnny came out, he was on his own. He would go as long as he wanted on a segment. Sometimes things would run long and somebody would get cut at the end of the show. One of our shows we did ran long and the person who got cut was Ellen DeGeneres making her first appearance on the show.
Steve Marinucci: What was the funniest incident you can remember.
Joan Embery: The one that most people often refer to was when the marmoset jumped from my hand to Johnny Carson's arm, then to his shoulder than to the top of his head and sat up with his tail wrapped around his ear. And then I remember being worried it would jump to the mike or get loose in the studio. And I remember trying to decide whether to try and grab it, but Johnny seemed to be in control of the situation so I just let it roll. And then when it marked its territory on top of his head, you know, his acceptance and his response was so memorable that to this day people will describe that in great detail.
Steve Marinucci: The one I remember was with the tarantula.
Joan Embery: The talent coordinator had come to the zoo and seen that and wanted me to take it to the show. And I said, 'I don't really like to do big insects, large insects.' And he said, 'Oh, come on, Joan. You can do it.' So when I got up there, knowing Carson's game for anything. I took it out in the box and then I told Johnny he could take it out. And at some point in the conversation, he was letting it crawl up his arm. And I thought, 'Wow, you're really brave, Johnny, because I don't really want to do that.'
Steve Marinucci: You really tried to not to laugh during those appearances. That must have been incredibly hard.
Joan Embery: It was, because he was so spontaneous and just would jump on things. Even if I look back at things, I'm in awe because I've sat next to so many hosts who are trying to pay attention to the commercial breaks and the cue cards and the questions that their talent coordinators have written. And a producer trying to get their attention. This is all happening while you're live on camera. And Johnny, when he walked out there, he was in total control of his show. So if he was having fun or something was funny or the audience was enjoying it, he'd just roll with it. I did always appreciate that he was always respectful of me and he always gave me an opportunity to speak to tell everybody about the animals.