On Thursday, November 16, Hulu is going to launch an exciting new series called There’s… Johnny!. This is a series reflecting on one of the most-influential late night shows of all time in The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and also many of the people who worked on it behind the scenes. While there is footage of the late-night show itself in the series, this story is about the men and women who make the magic happen.
One of the characters at the heart of the series is Rasheed Miller, an up-and-coming comedian with big dreams who finds himself immersed in this world thanks to his friend Andy — who just so happens to work at The Tonight Show. He is played by Camrus Johnson, best known to date for his parts on Luke Cage and The OA.
In this new CarterMatt interview, Johnson discusses the show’s move from its original home in Seeso to Hulu, his experience studying up on The Tonight Show history, and how there are many more potential stories that could be told within this world.
After the interview, you can also check out the official trailer at the bottom of the article!
CarterMatt – This show has had a journey getting to this point, starting out at Seeso before that ended up going away. In that interim time before Hulu [picked the series up], were you nervous about where the show was going to go?
Camrus Johnson – Of course — everyone was. I think my initial reaction was ‘oh, no, what’s going to happen next? Are we still going to be able to come out and are people going to be able to see this story that we worked so hard on?’
Very soon after that, though, I started to think ‘if I feel this much love for the story and these characters, someone is going to want it.’ Thankfully, someone found it.
It also had to be somewhat comforting that this show is based on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, given that the vast majority of Americans are familiar with it. It’s a self-starter for you guys.
Oh yeah. Americans tend to love American history when it comes to TV and film, especially when it comes to comedy legends. That helps a lot.
I’m very curious about your own knowledge and feelings towards The Tonight Show and this era. What did you know about it when you signed on? I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember when Carson was hosting, so what sort of research did you do?
It was very much before my time — my [late-night shows] are the Jimmy Fallons, the Jimmy Kimmels, the David Lettermans. I’m a huge fan of all of the hosts right now.
I just went back and looked at old Johnny Carson YouTube videos and went to JohnnyCarson.com and watched old episodes. I had to figure out who he was and what the hype was. I’m now very envious of the people who would stay up and watch episodes every day and every week. He was so good and he’s so funny and such a specific character.
It’s such a weird thing that people of our generation don’t understand — oh, you have to watch this guy live? You can’t just look him up on YouTube the next day?
Right! It’s interesting because I know with SNL if you miss it, it’ll come back on other platforms. But Johnny Carson, if you miss it, you miss it. That was it. That’s another thing I find really interesting — I can only imagine what it must have been like at that time when you had to catch it when it came out. That was like my childhood; sure, you could record things, but when our favorite shows were on you had to watch them in real time. With The Tonight Show you were seeing all of your favorite actors and comedians all in one place.
Let’s hone in on Rasheed and a little more of who this man is. What did you know about him when you were in the process of getting the role?
Rasheed is this strong, very black-power, very loud comedian. He uses all of that masculinity to hide how big his heart really is and also hide this big secret that he’s sort of harboring from his past.
There’s… Johnny! is all about this kid named Andy (Ian Nelson) whose gift is really a job at The Tonight Show and he gets taken under the wing of Joy (Jane Levy) who is also under the wing of Freddie (Tony Danza). He’s trying to fit in and they’re helping him to find his place and find his way into the company. He really doesn’t deserve the job — he’s just some lucky kid, but they want him to fit in. Rasheed sort of becomes his unexpected best friend. Rasheed and Andy’s vibe and personality don’t really mesh, but for some reason they stick. They meet in a very odd way, but they end up enjoying one another’s presence.
Rasheed is the comedian who just wants to make it in Hollywood, and Andy is not just his friend — he’s also his way in since Andy now works at The Tonight Show. He gets to go backstage and meet all of the people, and he gets one step closer to his dreams.
And I’m sure for Rasheed, it’s not lost on him that getting to do even just four minutes on The Tonight Show would break your career right open. Is that something he’s striving for?
100%. It’s one of his dreams if not his number 1 dream. He knows how much respect he’ll get and how many eyes will be on him. He also doesn’t want to be compared to all of the other top comedians out there; he wants to break into Hollywood and into the game his own way.
Preparing for him was really fun, actually. In my room I put on three full-out improv comedy shows. I like to imagine the path that my character is going to be on. Because Rasheed is a comedian, I don’t just want to do standup comedy myself — I want to do standup comedy in his voice and within his mind. I came up with some things in my mind plus some that were in the script and I put on three five-minute standup routines in my room to no one. Just for my imagination. I got into his mind and saw how his comedy worked, how he would react to Johnny Carson … I felt like rather than putting on a full comedy show, I thought it would be smarter with Rasheed to improv jokes because that’s what he would do. That was very beneficial because when I was on set playing Rasheed my mind was always thinking ‘can I try to make this funnier? Can I throw another joke in here? What would Rasheed try to do?’
Can you speak a little bit to the tone of the show and the overall feel? I think the presumption from people would be that it’s just a late-night comedy, but there’s some emotional and personal stuff in here. Is this a full-on comedy, or are there dramatic elements in there?
It’s a beautiful mash-up of the two. There will be moments where you want to laugh, then moments where you want to cry and then moments where you will be shocked. There are a lot of twists and turns. I remember specifically in episode 4 — it ends in a way that when I was watching it at our premiere, even I forgot what was going to happen.
It’s a nice mix — it can give you everything that you want to feel and everything that you’re looking for. It’s less so about the show of Johnny Carson and more of a fictitious story about what may have been happening behind the scenes. What we have with our show that I think is so impressive is that we have actual archival footage of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. So, you will be watching a clip from that episode and then you’ll see us backstage. What’s happening in the clip is happening because of what we’re doing. It meshes the past with the present to where it feels like one time period.
A lot of it has to be funny because it is The Tonight Show, but there is so much rawness to the characters and so many layers. I know specifically that Joy and Rasheed have a lot of baggage with themselves. That tends to come up throughout the season.
Is there a future for this show? Could there be a season 2, and is there more story you think is worth telling with Rasheed?
Man, I know Rasheed has so many stories to tell (laughs). You’ll see that throughout the season. Whatever secret he’s been harboring will come out. You will want to know more about him.
As for the show itself, I think every character has so much more that they want to say and so many things that we can dive into. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but a season 2 is definitely what we want. We want to keep this thing going.
What are you looking for in a project now? One of the great things is that there are so many different genres and things to choose from — if there’s something you want to do there may be something out there for it.
There’s so many beautiful projects out right now that it’s hard to say I’m looking for anything. I have a taste for almost everything. Every time I have an idea, something similar is either in development or already out. I personally owe a lot to streaming services because my first two TV jobs were on Netflix and now There’s… Johnny! is going to be on Hulu.
As far as what I’m looking for I really gravitate towards realness, rawness, darkness. Things that make you uncomfortable in a way that you have to think. You can enjoy it, but you also have to look inside yourself and say ‘huh.’ There’s… Johnny! has moments where you’re laughing, but also moments where you’re like ‘oh, that’s dark.’ I like that. I’m looking for more like that. Mr. Robot has that and Black Mirror has that, and those are two of my favorite shows.
A special thanks to Camrus Johnson for speaking with us, and remember that There’s… Johnny! premieres on Hulu November 16.
Be sure to like CarterMatt on Facebook to get some more news on this show and some others we cover. (Photo: NBC Universal.)