Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson. Photo courtesy of IMDb

I remember my first television set. It was in New York about 1958. I was dating my then-girlfriend, a swimsuit designer whose brother, a fledgling tech guy, had put together his own television set.

It was too big for her apartment, so she gave it to me. She and I and her brother installed it in the large apartment, at 275 West 87nd St., that I was sharing with three other actors.

The picture was terrible, but we were the hit of the building that housed actors and dancers, who crashed our place each night to watch Jack Paar, a big favorite at the time, because he had taken over for Steve Allen.

It was on Paar that Johnny Carson made his first guest appearance, filling in for Paar long before he went on to take the show over in 1962.

I remember watching his monologue, when at the first commercial, our new set flared up, caught fire, and we had to toss it in a dumpster in the alley.

I am proud to say that I related that story to Johnny himself, when his producers hired me for three shows as one of his “Mighty Carson Art Players,” in a series of comedy sketches. And the rest is history.

And now, the history of late night comedy, that we aspiring comics never missed, is being replayed for us very old comic actors, aging fans and a new generation of viewers on CNN’s “The Story of Late Night.”

The show, hosted by writer/director Bill Carter, does a lot more than dance around in the early days of television late-night shows.

Carter takes us, with huge closeups of every one of the new kids on the block, to watch the comic hosts who stand on the iconic shoulders of the early greats.

Those of you too young to remember the shambolic routine of those days, will get to follow the route of each of the guys and gals who kept us up to 1 in the morning, including just last night. It’s almost a seven-decade parade of laughs.

Each Sunday at 9 p.m., CNN’s cavalcade starts with Steve Allen and runs through Jack Paar and Carson to Jay Leno, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, Dick Cavett, Bill Maher and Joey Bishop right up to Samantha Bee, Carson Daly, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. And all for free.

Viewers of all ages now get to experience the gift of comedy, the writing, the directing and the feeling of standing alone on stage and bringing light into the darkness. Enjoy.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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