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America loved all 140 episodes of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In,
an American television show that ran from January 22, 1968 through May
14, 1973 on the NBC network. It replaced another popular show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in
the 8:00 p.m. times slot on Monday evenings.
The title Laugh In came out of the 60's hippie culture, "be-ins"
or "love-ins" (expressions derived from "sit-ins" which were common in protests associated with
anti-war and civil rights demonstrations of the time).
Dan Rowan and
the comedy team “from beautiful
downtown Burbank” (Martin played the horny, dumb guy and Rowan played the exasperated straight man), the show was
known for its rapid-fire series of gags and sketches; many of which
contained sexual innuendo, were politically charged, or just plain silly.
A TV classic,
Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was one of those rare
programs which was not only highly innovative, but an overnight sensation.
created dozens or stars and was a trendsetter in comedy. The wacky series provided a contemporary,
unstructured, fast-paced comedy which was exactly what an agitated America wanted in 1968.
Laugh-In was first seen on September 9, 1967 as a one-time special. It
was such an enormous hit that it eventually led to a series.
Its lightning-fast pace took
full advantage of the technical capabilities of video tape and television.
Sketches, one-liners, blackouts and cameo appearances by famous show-biz
personalities and national politicians were all edited into a
regular cast was large and the turnover high. Of the forty regulars who
appeared in the series only 4 were in it from beginning to end; the two
Ruth Buzzi and
The show developed a loyal following eager for catchphrases
such as "Verrrrry interestink . . . but stupid", "Sock
it to me", "Is that a chicken
joke?" and "Here comes de judge".
The 'Sock it to me' girl was Judy Carne. Other regulars
included Ruth Buzzi as the little old lady carrying an umbrella, always whacking the
equally decrepit old man who cuddled up beside her on a park bench; Arte Johnson as the German Soldier
always peeking out from behind a potted
palm; Alan Sues as the grinning idopt of a sports announcer; Lily Tomlin
as the sarcastic, nasal telephone operator named Ernestine; Gary Owens as the
outrageously over modulated announcer, facing the microphone, hand cupped over
ear; Goldie Hawn, as the
giggling dumb blonde and Lily Tomlin again as Edith Anne, a child philosopher whose
catchphrase was "and that's the truth".
The dumb blonde image portrayed by Goldie
Hawn on Laugh-In came about unintentionally. "When I first started, I was so nervous that I would look at the cue cards
and get all mixed up" She says. The producer loved it. He said to "keep it that way".
Laugh-In carried jokes about subjects like
death, drugs, drugs and homosexuality; extremely daring for 1968, and particularly
daring for Americans.
Nonetheless, the show attracted guest stars such as John Wayne and even
presidential candidate Richard Nixon.
During the 1968 election campaign, Nixon went on just to say
"sock it to me".
Hubert Humphrey, his opponent, was offered the same opportunity by the
producers, but he declined. As it happens, Nixon won the election by only
a million votes. Dick Martin jokingly confesses; "A lot of people have accused us".
Devices of the program included the Cocktail Party, The
Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award, Laugh-In Looks at the News and Letters to
Laugh-In. Gags were inscribed
on the undulating body of a girl in a bikini, and also on 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 confetti or water.
Not another television variety show ensemble
would leave such a
firm imprint on the evolution of American comedy until until
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Rowan & Martin's Laughin.