1 9 6 7 – 1 9 7 3 (USA)
124 x 60 minute episodes
Rowan & 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.
Its 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”.
Judy 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.
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.
Betty Ann Carr
Willie Tyler & Lester
Jo Anne Worley
Donna Jean Young
The Beautiful Downtown Beauties