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Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

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1 9 6 7 – 1 9 7 3 (USA)
124 x 60 minute episodes

laughin_006Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was one of TV’s classics, one of those rare programmes which was not only an overnight sensation, but was highly innovative, created a raft of new stars, and started trends in comedy which other programmes would follow.

Hosted “from beautiful downtown Burbank” by nightclub comedians Dan Rowan (the straight-man) and Dick Martin, this wacky series provided a contemporary, fast-paced, unstructured comedy that was exactly what an agitated America wanted in 1968.

Laugh-In was first seen as a one-time special on 9 September 1967. It was such a hit that it inevitably led to a series.

laughin_08Its lightning-fast pace took full advantage of the technical capabilities of television and video tape. Blackouts, sketches, one-liners, and cameo appearances by famous show- business celebrities and even national politicians were all edited into a frenetic whole.

The regular cast was large and the turnover high, and of the 40 regulars who appeared in the series only four were in it from beginning to end, the two hosts, announcer Gary Owens, and Ruth Buzzi.

The show built up a devoted following, eager for such catchphrases as “Verrry interestink . . . but stupid”, “Is that a chicken joke?”, “Here come de judge” and “Sock it to me”.

laughin_034Judy Carne was the ‘Sock it to me’ girl, and other regulars included Arte Johnson as the German Soldier, peering out from behind a potted palm; Ruth Buzzi as the little old lady with an umbrella, forever whacking the equally decrepit old man who snuggled up beside her on a park bench, and Lily Tomlin as both the sarcastic, nasal telephone operator named Ernestine (pictured at right) and Edith Anne, a child philosopher whose catchphrase was “and that’s the truth”.

Gary Owens was the outrageously over modulated announcer, facing the microphone, hand cupped over ear; Alan Sues was the grinning moron of a sports announcer, and Goldie Hawn the eternally giggling dumb blonde.

Hawn’s dumb blonde image on Laugh-In came about unintentionally. She says; “When I first started, I was so nervous that I would look at the cue cards and get all mixed up. The producer loved it and said to keep it that way”.

Laugh-In carried jokes about subjects like drugs, death, and homosexuality – pretty daring for 1968, particularly for Americans.

laughin_3Nevertheless, the show attracted star guests like John Wayne and even presidential candidate Richard Nixon. Nixon went on during the 1968 election campaign just to say “sock it to me”.

The producers offered the same opportunity to his opponent Hubert Humphrey, but he declined. In the event, Nixon won the election by only a million votes. Dick Martin admits; “A lot of people have accused us”.

Some of the devices of the show were the Cocktail Party, Letters to Laugh-In, The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award, ‘Laugh-In Looks at the News’, the gags written on the undulating body of a girl in a bikini, and the joke wall at the close of each show, in which cast members kept popping out of windows to throw each other one-liners – or a bucket of water.

Not until Saturday Night Live would another television variety show ensemble leave such a firm imprint on the evolution of American comedy.

The theme tune to the show was called Inquisitive Tango.

Alan Sues died of cardiac arrest in December 2011 at the age of 85.

Dan Rowan
Dick Martin
Gary Owens
Ruth Buzzi
Lily Tomlin
Dennis Allen
Tod Bass
Elaine Beckett
Eileen Brennan
Brian Bressler
Charlie Brill
Chelsea Brown
Johnny Brown
Judy Carne
Betty Ann Carr
Richard Dawson
Patti Deutsch
Moosie Drier
Ann Elder
Lisa Farringer
Henry Gibson
Byron Gilliam
Teresa Graves
Goldie Hawn
Larry Hovis
Harvey Jason
Arte Johnson
Sarah Kennedy
Muriel Landers
Jeremy Lloyd
Dave Madden
Pigmeat Markham
Mitzi McCall
Nancy Phillips
Pamela Rodgers
Roddy-Maude Roxby
Barbara Sharma
Jud Strunk
Alan Sues
Willie Tyler & Lester
Dick Whittington
Jo Anne Worley
Donna Jean Young

The Beautiful Downtown Beauties
Janice Whitby
Rosetta Cox
Joy Robiero
Adele Yoshioka
Kyra Carlton
Meredith Bernhart

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