Slice of Turkey: Ed McMahon and Regis Philbin, 1981

Most of my youth, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was hosted by preternaturally gleeful souls like Willard Scott or Matt Lauer. Morning people, through and through, with orange juice and low-octane coffee running through their veins.

Apparently, t’was not always so. In this clip from the 1981 parade, Ed McMahon is your host. You know, Johnny Carson’s affable sidekick. Ed was more of a night owl, if you catch my drift, and boy does he show it here.

McMahon looks woefully ill equipped to be awake and outside at this early hour. He was supposed to arrive on the back of a rollerskating elephant from the Big Apple Circus (!), but after five minutes on the beast’s shaky back he could take no more. So he stumbles out from behind a red curtain, trembling and breathing heavily, and literally pushes his way past two lines of Rockettes to begin his opening monologue. And if you can follow that monologue, you and Ed must speak a special sidekick twin language. Individually, all of his words make sense, but they don’t quite add up to a cohesive whole. It’s like a verbal clearance bin.

McMahon eventually throws things over to “NBC’s newest morning talk show host,” Regis Philbin. Reeg engages Ed with his usual rapid-fire Regis-isms, then switches gears to wax nostalgic over the Thanksgiving parades of his youth and his alma mater, Cardinal Hayes High School. It’s weird to hear a somewhat solemn, subdued Regis Philbin, since I don’t think he’s been able to lower his voice below Shout Level for the last 20 years or so. My theory is, at some point he became confused over where Dana Carvey’s impression of himself ended and the real him began.

After a brief commercial break (McDonalds and an awesome windup motorcycle I kinda want right now), things end on a sour note, as we get a glimpse of the rollerskating elephant. The poor thing totters unsteady on the pavement, moving gingerly. It looks like the unhappiest animal on the planet. Good thing PETA didn’t exist back then, or the Big Apple Circus would’ve gotten a big bucket of red paint in their faces.

UPDATE, 11/19/2012: The original video I shared here has been removed from YouTube by people who hate our freedom. You can, however, get a brief glimpse of what was described above from the clip now posted below, which includes the very beginning of NBC’s 1981 parade coverage. The quality of this video is not fantastic and you will only hear a tiny piece of Ed McMahon’s rambling monologue. However, you will still see Ed almost run over a couple of Rockettes.

Just for laughs, here’s the old link, on the off chance it is restored some day. Courage!