A while back, Ben Settle, one of the email marketers I follow kept talking about Johnny Carson, "The King of Late Night".
How "The Tonight Show" was, not only, immensely entertaining, but also a great example of good email copy.
And having heard the name Johnny Carson all my life, I figured I'd have to take a look. So it became something I did a few nights a week. Just hang with my dog and watch Johnny Carson videos on YouTube. And more recently, a Johnny Carson Podcast came out, so now I simply stream it on my phone when doing yard work or driving.
It's great because you get to see a ton of stars get their start — like Robbin Williams, Jim Carey, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, and even Oprah to name a few. It's also a completely different style of comedy than what you see today.
It's a lot less "in your face" and more elegant somehow.
Anyway, here's a few of the email lessons I've learned from Johnny Carson:
*Be self-deprecating — If you're showing up in people's inboxes each day, you don't want to come off as a stiff or a prude. And you don't want to be seen as "untouchable" in a perfect sort of way. You want people to feel like you're the "guy or gal at the bar". Like they could just walk up to you and strike up a friendly conversation. Even if you have a "Guru" positioning or you're a "tough guy" (like Matt Furey for example), you still want your ideal prospects to feel like they can have a conversation with you. And being self-deprecating does that. But if you watch Johnny, you'll notice he never does it in a way that says "pity me" or anything like that. He's just having fun and putting on a good show.
*Be unrepentantly you — One thing I absolutely love about Johnny Carson is that he BOMBS all the time. In fact, those are some of the funnest monologues to watch. Because how he pulls himself out of it... is genius. He'll berate the crowd, ask them if they're sleeping, blame the writers, be self-deprecating, you name it. But he never apologizes. He just keeps trucking on. That doesn't mean you shouldn't apologize if you mess up. I just mean be bold in your personality.
*Be controversial — Some of Jonny's best jokes are ones that "toe the line". A lot of them would not fly today. Johnny Carson would be #canceled faster than you could say "intersectional feminism". I'm not saying to be offensive. Just be slightly controversial. Toe the line. Especially when it comes to "industry norms". You may be surprised the reaction you get (in a good way).
*Know your market — It's clear in his monologues he's always having a conversation with the crowd. And to have a conversation — a true conversation, not ones that pass today amongst millennials whose most common phrases are "I" and "Want" sprinkled amid the rap slang and twitterpating on their phones — you have to know who you're talking to. Good comedians tailor their comedy to the crowd. Good copywriters do the same.
*Build the relationship — If Johnny was a no-name comedian, his shtick wouldn't work. The only reason he's able to do what he does is the rapport he's built with his audience. He was building it for decades. Showing up in people's living rooms every single night. That's why he has an immortal brand. Not because of his looks or talents or connections or anything like that. It's because of the relationship he built with his audience (Fun Fact: To drive this point home, both my mom and dad remember watching Johnny Carson as a kid. They both said it was a "highlight", something their families looked forward to each day).
*Speak on current events — Taking the "news angle" is a tried-and-true copywriting technique. Especially because making your ad look and feel like a news report is much more likely to get it read and believed. Plus, current events are already on people's minds. One thing Johnny would do is put a unique spin on current events, or even make a "circus" out of it. Basically he would turn what was going on into a "fantasy" world in his jokes. If you do the same, you'll be giving people a new way to think about the same thing they're hearing everywhere else. Which will make you stick in their psychology.
*Have a cast and crew — What made the Johnny Carson Show so amazing was it's cast and crew. You had the band, Ed Mcmahon, The Nut Lady, The Pediatrician, Joan Rivers, the other guests who kept coming back, and more and more. It was always ever changing yet very familiar. In email you can do this by talking about your subscribers, customers, clients, whoever else it is you're working with. Also doing FAQ style emails and sharing testimonials can do this too. You can also talk about well-known people in your emails (sort of like I am here with Johnny Carson). But if you really want to amp this up, you can even have "guests emails" where other people in your industry email your list for you. That could be cool depending on your strategy and positioning. It's really up to you.
*Be a tease — One of Johnny Carson's joke "formats" is that he sets up a scene where you think you know where it's going... and at the last second, with just a flourish of language, your expectation gets dumped on his head. It reminds of of the 90/10 rule I talk about in my book. In other words, timing in comedy is more about what you leave out then what you put in. It's the same in copy.
Ok, that's all the lessons for now. I hope you found this fun and useful.
I know these lessons sure have made me a better email copywriter. And I think they'll do the same for you.
If you'd like your very own 'Daily Show', where you can amass fans, fame, fortune, and an immortal brand... and you want me as your writing team, I'm currently asking potential clients to join a waitlist. When I have an opening, the names on my waitlist will be the first to be notified. If you'd like to join, head over here and follow the simple instructions on the page: