Jim Fowler, the zoologist best known for hosting wildlife documentary series Wild Kingdom, died Wednesday at age 89. He was also, as the YouTube channel that archives Johnny Carson-era Tonight Show segments knows, very good at bringing animals onto a sound stage so a late night host could do improv comedy with them.
A video posted today celebrates Fowler’s appearances by highlighting some of the best examples of his chemistry with Carson. First up is a visit from Fowler and a baby bear, which makes a beeline for co-host Ed McMahon’s mug (“Don’t drink that out of Ed’s,” Carson says. “That bear will hibernate for a year if he gets a slug of that.”) and then rushes on its hind legs to be fed a bottle by Fowler and Carson.
Less adorable is some sort of giant beetle that Fowler tries to stop crawling up Carson’s arm by poking a stick in front of the host’s grimacing face. “He doesn’t have any mandibles for eating or biting,” Fowler assures him. The clips wrap up with a diapered monkey, always the star of the questionable decision to bring animals onto talk shows. The little creature flings around the set and Carson asks, “How long have you had him under control, Jim?” as it flings the peel off a banana and smacks away hands trying to steal its snack. The whole thing’s capped off with Carson getting punched in the mouth by the monkey, which, given it’s a monkey on television, is its god-given right.
The compilation is a great reminder of Fowler’s public-facing work that also serves as a reminder of how late night was done back in the old days when vehicular karaoke and lip-sync contests were a far-off dream. Watch Carson ad-lib based on animals crawling around—or attacking—him and think of how lucky modern hosts are to be able to fall back on material that doesn’t involve getting beat on by monkeys. (Fowler’s animal antics also helped inspire The Larry Sanders Show classic, “The Spider Episode.”)
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