Remember When Johnny Carson Caused A National Toilet Paper Shortage?

By | March 18, 2020

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Tonight Show host Johnny Carson on August 3rd, 1971-- (Photo by: Fred Sabine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

It was the toilet paper shortage of '73 -- Johnny Carson, Tonight Show host, helped spark a run on bath tissue when he joked about a shortage on the air, and Americans reacted with hysteria over possible disruption of their bathroom ritual. There are many ways everyday life might be disrupted by scarcity, but not being able to clean ourselves seems to be America's worst nightmare, as we have seen in 2020 with the TP shortage caused by coronavirus. Toilet paper and the virus have little to do with each other, but shoppers began to hoard their Charmin and Cottonelle as the news became more and more serious. In 1973, the pattern was different in the details but the result was the same -- bare shelves in stores, and national angst over just what we were going to do if the supply actually ran out.

There Was A Shortage Of A Certain Kind Of Toilet Paper

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Johnny Carson, who ignited nationwide panic in 1973. Source: (Paley Matters).

Johnny Carson helped to establish the format of the late-night talk show during his tenure on The Tonight Show: it starts with a monologue, followed by a comedy sketch, and then guest interviews and performances by musicians and comedians. The monologue was comprised of 16-22 one liners. During one particular monologue, on December 19, 1973, Johnny Carson read a newspaper clipping that claimed we were facing a toilet paper shortage and, of course, joked about it. However, the clipping was about commercial-grade, not consumer-grade toilet paper. This joke did not fall flat though, as the public definitely reacted to it, though probably not in the ways he anticipated.