On The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson had a three-decade run, most of it without serious competition, but now late night is full of talk shows — hosted by Jay Leno, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien and many others. New Orleans has a talk show, albeit monthly, available only to the live audience at Cafe Istanbul. Host John Calhoun has posted a few monologues, comedy sketches and guest appearances on YouTube.
Calhoun's The Goodnight Show apes the most familiar late-night tropes, opening with a comedic monologue and progressing to chats with guests on a couch beside his desk. There is an announcer, onstage band and performances by comic and musical guests. The string of guests and loose atmosphere make the show fun, although the segment changes start to drag after the first hour.
The December show featured Dwight Henry, star of Beasts of the Southern Wild and owner of The Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Cafe. He shared a story about the persistence it took director Benh Zeitlin and a team of producers to convince him to take time from his bakery to make the film. Meschiya Lake performed a couple of ballads, and then recounted how, at 9 years old, she sang a Patsy Cline song to beat adult competition in a South Dakota steakhouse's talent show.
For a comic bit, Calhoun pulled offbeat New Year's resolutions out of a Christmas stocking. But the unpolished, bare-bones skits that serve as live commercials for sponsors were more entertaining, if only for their upbeat hucksterism. A bit promoting Satsuma Cafe featured an overworked but funny joke about an employee learning to make BLTs as if he was one of the hapless recruits learning to use his rifle in Full Metal Jacket's boot camp scenes.
Calhoun has a big smile; he's cheerful and comfortable in the role of host. Ultimately, what makes the variety show work is the guests and quick stream of short segments. The talk show-style set and shtick is funny the first time, but will constantly calling attention to it wear well? The desk and couch arrangement led to Calhoun and his guests sitting close together, almost facing one another — a couple of guests awkwardly tried to balance switching back and forth to face the audience and Calhoun. The few rows of seats are shallow but wide, leaving many watching from extreme angles. There's no real point to setting the stage like a TV set if it makes it harder for the audience to see the show. The gimmickry is not as entertaining as the unscripted moments and conversation that make live events compelling. The next installment is Jan. 23 at Cafe Istanbul. — Will Coviello