In 1950, 25 years before Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975, NBC introduced a 90-minute, live comedy sketch program on Saturday nights, Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar, a Yonkers native who developed his comedic talents working in his parents’ luncheonette. Caesar’s right-hand man on the program, Carl Reiner, was born in the Bronx but would move to New Rochelle, which he would later use as the setting for a sitcom featuring his fictional alter ego, comedy writer Rob Petrie, the principal character of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
In the mid-50s, another live program appeared on Saturday night, The Honeymooners. Headlined by Jackie Gleason, a native of Brooklyn who built in Cortlandt Manor an allegedly UFO-inspired home he called the Mothership, named his production company Peekskill Productions. But the real source of The Honeymooners’ enduring success, as Gleason himself often mentioned, was perhaps the most memorable sidekick in TV history, Mount Vernon’s own Art Carney, who played sewer worker Ed Norton.
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Westchester’s history of providing laughter to America continued, with Ohio native and subsequent Bronxville resident Jack Paar when he took over The Tonight Show in 1957. He was followed in 1962 by Nebraskan Johnny Carson, who lived for a while in Rye. You may recall that Carson eventually named as his permanent guest host the most Westchester-associated comedian of all: Larchmont’s Joan Rivers.
When Carson left The Tonight Show, in 1993, hosting duties did not pass to Joan Rivers, however, nor to Indianapolis native and future North Salem resident David Letterman but rather Jay Leno, who is more associated with Andover, MA, but was actually born on Leland Road in New Rochelle.
Yes, Westchester has a long history of both producing comedy legends and having it become their homes after rising to superstardom. Who knows what future household names are currently holed up somewhere in the 914, hatching mirthful plans to keep the world in stitches for decades to come.