Carnac the Magnificent

One of many comic character performed by talk show host Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW/NBC/1962-92.


Carnac the Magnificent was a bumbling telepath-in-a-turban  (first seen in 1964) who could divine answers to questions sealed in envelopes by placing the sealed envelop to his forehead. The skit opened with announcer Ed McMahon stating:

“I have in my hand an envelope, a child of four can plainly see these envelopes are hermetically sealed. They’ve been kept since noon today in a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnalls’ porch. No one-but one!-knows the contents. In his mystical, and borderline divine way; Carnac will now ascertain the answers having never heard the questions.”

The following are some typical Carnac answer/question exchanges:

  • Answer: “The Moonies”/Question: “The name of the religion that drops its pants?”
  • Answer: “The Zip Code”/Question: “What do CIA agents have to remember to go to the bathroom?”
  • Answer: “Sis, Boom, Bah”/Question: “Describe the sound made when a sheep explodes.”
  • Answer: “A pair of Jordache jeans and a bread box”/Question: “Name two places where you stuff your buns?”
  • Answer: “Ovaltine”/Question: “Describe Oprah Winfrey in High School”
  • Answer: “Ben Gay”/Question: “How come Mrs. Franklin didn’t have any children?”
  • Answer: Leave It To Beaver/Question: “What did the raccoon say in his will?”

If the audience booed one of Carnac’s responses, he’d fight back by saying something like “May a love-starved fruit fly molest your sister’s nectarines” or “May a nearsighted sand flea suck syrup off your short stack.”

When the announcer said “I hold in my hand…the last envelope.” The audience usually cheered, as if to say “Thank God this skit is almost over.”

Note: The character of Carnac the Magnificent was a parody of such early TV psychics as Criswell, who also held an envelope to his forehead and divined its contents.

An early radio program called “The Answer Man” (which debuted in 1937) inspired comedian Ernie Kovacs to create a parody of such programs in a skit called “Mr. Question Man” on THE ERNIE KOVACS SHOW in the early 1950s. A typical question would be “If camel’s hair comes from a camel, does mohair come from Mo?”

See also“Carnac the Magnificent Tonight Show Clip” @ You Tube


Born in Philadelphia, Jerome Alphonse Holst worked 30 years as a librarian. He has since retired and lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mr. Holst is also the author of the children’s books “Norman the Troll,” "Norman the Troll and the Haunted House," and "Gretchen and the Gremlins." In addition, he penned the fantasy novel “The Adventures of Glinda Gale,” a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz" and the reference text “The Encyclopedia of Movie and TV Insults.” .

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Posted in Talk Shows

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