Shards from the Memory Palace #2: That Time I Was on Last Call With Carson Daly
Some memories rest very close to the surface. They’re instantly and regularly accessed, core components of our lives and our identity. I think regularly about the week and a half I spent traversing the Midwest and South following American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic last year, for example, due in no small part to the experience being very connected to what I’m doing in the present tense finishing up The Weird Accordion to Al and getting ready to convert the column into a book. I similarly think about the six Gathering of the Juggalos that I’ve been to all the time.
Then there are memories that are buried deep within our subconscious. We almost never think of them, and when we do, it’s because of a very direct, specific prompt. Maybe we half-remember a cousin coming out to us during a vacation in Maine sometime in the late 1970s, and are brought back to this memory by the smell of beach air.
Or, if you’re me, you remember that one time you were on Last Call with Carson Daly upon learning that the show has been cancelled, Carson Daly has “dropped the body” as Scientologists like to say, and the television personality will be ascending to heaven to join Dick Clark as soon as his contract with NBC expires.
I did Carson Daly about a decade ago, back in 2010, in conjunction with my series on Now That’s What I Call Music! over at the A.V Club. I honestly remember almost nothing about appearing on Carson Daly. Did they fly me out to Los Angeles or did I double-dip because I was doing something in Los Angeles already? Was this one of the trips I look to Los Angeles to work on Weird Al: The Book with Al and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz? I’m vaguely remembering that to be the case.
I fuzzily recall being jetted out to the coast to work on a book with national treasure “Weird Al” Yankovic and then squeezing an appearance on national late night television into one of my visits.
What a life I used to lead! All that success and glamour and celebrity would have made me deliriously happy, I reckon, if only I weren’t so goddamn miserable and stressed all the time. Funny how that works.
I appreciate any opportunity, no matter how ridiculous or off-brand. Hell, I particularly like the ridiculous and off-brand. My response to doing Carson Daly then was the same as it would be now: why the hell not? What do I have to lose?
At the same time, this was about as far as you could get from doing The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and still technically count as network late night television. For starters, I’m pretty sure they’d already taken away Daly’s studio audience and band by that point. If I remember correctly, which is doubtful, he was operating out off a janitor’s closet somewhere deep in the basement of an NBC local affiliate somewhere in Burbank.
I never got to meet Carson Daly. I can say without exaggeration that that is easily the greatest regret of my life. Instead, some of his camera people came to a hip record store that had been rented out for the occasion. Then I did what I do when playing the talking head role: ramble on and on and hope that I say something lucid enough to use in a professional context. Oh, and awkwardly pretend to look at albums for b-roll footage. I remember doing a lot of that. I remember that more than the talking, really.
What I remember most about the experience, beyond the eternal regret I feel over not getting to look Carson Daly in the eye, shake his hand and tell him what he means to me, which, to be brutally honest, is little to nothing (sorry, Carson, but I would be legit shocked if you’re reading this) is that when he was introducing my segment he said, “We found this guy, Nathan Rabin”, who was doing this crazy project, and the way he said it made it seem kind of like I was his discovery, and that idea made me laugh.
It was, as you might imagine, surreal seeing yourself on television being introduced by Carson Daly in an episode where David Guetta was the primary guest, and, I imagine, probably met Carson Daly in the process. It’s not a memory I think about very often but I’m glad it happened.
So goodnight and goodbye, Last Call with Carson Daly. Last call has finally arrived for you. You were ultimately too pure and too beautiful for this world, and that is why you lasted a mere seventeen years. You deserved so much more, but then the world is not always fair.
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