The Comedian Who Caused a Shortage of Toilet Paper with One Joke - Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts

November 02, 2018


In the UK, we have had a number of excellent chat show hosts over the years and currently boast two in the form of Graham Norton on BBC1 and Jonathan Ross on ITV. Compared to the US though, we are way behind! Currently they have Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver… The list goes on and on.  This particular story involves a man in the same position as these fine folk, the joke he told and the ensuing crisis that unfolded.

If you were a resident of the USA in 1973, it’s fair to assume that you were familiar with The Tonight Show and comedian Johnny Carson as host. He was so famous that he is the Johnny referenced in The Shining when Jack Nicholson’s character puts an axe through a door. Undoubtedly one of the most famous men in the country, Carson always began his show with a humorous monologue that summed up the day’s news for all to enjoy.

In December 1973, Carson read a real newspaper clipping about a toilet paper shortage. A Republican congressman had put out a press release earlier that day based on this very issue after receiving a number of complaints about a shortage of pulp paper, which in turn might lead to a shortage of commercial grade toilet paper. Naturally Carson and his writing team found this to be a great topic for his monologue with the comedian joking on the night:

“You know, we’ve got all sorts of shortages these days. But have you heard the latest? I’m not kidding. I saw it in the papers. There’s a shortage of toilet paper.”

Carson didn’t bother to mention the difference between commercial grade toilet paper and consumer toilet paper, which is what the public buy, but then it was a joke so what’s the worst could happen? Unfortunately for the US, 1973 was a year where shortages weren’t uncommon so upon hearing their favourite host talk of a toilet paper shortage, many rushed to their local store to ensure they were prepared.

At this point, there was no actual shortage of paper. The congressman had merely stated it might be a possibility. Unfortunately because some had rushed to the store to buy toilet paper, others would see stocks dwindling and quickly buy some for themselves as well. Because stores and suppliers hadn’t been anticipating the rush, the empty shelves only reinforced the idea that there really was a shortage of toilet paper in the country.

Such was the problem that over the next few weeks, many stores had to ration toilet paper purchases and found that not only were their toilet paper stocks decreasing but that paper towels and napkins were very popular with the public as well. One leading wholesale paper supplier was even forced to make a statement to say that they wouldn’t accept new customers who only wanted to buy toilet paper and that, “If people wouldn’t hoard and get so excited about this, everything would be okay.

Eventually everything returned to normal with Carson himself noted that the didn’t “want to be remembered as the man who created a false toilet paper scare.” As this blog proves, he didn’t entirely get his wish.

 

 





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By Henry Fosdike