Recently at DBQ's Public Library I discovered that they had gotten in the 1st 3 disc set of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In episodes. It was 1 of my favorite series back in the late 60s, early 70s. When it was on the cable channel TRIO I got to see many of the episodes again. But, it has been a while so I couldn't pass up the oportunity to see the show again, even if it was only 6 episodes. (This is the 1 weakness with how this show is being put out, only a few episodes, not a season. There are a few other shows that have, unfortunately done it the same way. To me, I can only see it as a way to rip off fans. The same is true with how The Dean Martin Show & several others, like The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour have been released, or only partially released.)
Even though the episodes are over 35 yrs old they still hold up. & they are just as topical today as they were back then. It was great to return to "Beautiful Downtown Burbank", stay at the "Nern Hote"l with "Morgel the Friendly Drelb" & let them "Sock it to me" so hard I laughed off my "Sweet Bippy". Of course, I had to be sure I wasn't buzzed by the "Flying Fickle Finger of Fate" at the "Cocktail Party" while dancing "The Farkel".
By now I am sure a few people are shocked that I am even talking about this show. Wasn't that show anti-establishment, pro-drug, pro-free sex? Not really. What they were about was making fun of pomposity, arrogance, stupidity & the like whether it came from the left, right, center, liberal, conservative, libertarian, or moderate. There were no sacred cows they wouldn't touch. In the end, most of what they did was just plain & simple funny entertainment. The show had plenty of biting satire. For the 60s it was cutting edge, but no where near as radical as people seem to remember. It just seemed to be so because, as I said, it had no sacred cows. They were like the court jesters of ancient times who could use humor to cut the sting of the harsh light of day looking at the truth.
My proof, well look at the following facts. During the 1968 election they invited Hubert H. Humprhrey, the Democratic candidate & Richard M. Nixon the Republican candidate for President. Only Nixon took up the challenge. Some say that was what helped to get him elected. I doubt it. It does make for a good myth though, doesn't it?
1 of their main writers was Paul Keyes who went on to be a speech writer for President Nixon. & if anyone knows anything about Mr. Keyes they know he was very conservative. In fact, in an interview with George Schlatter, he admits that Keyes helped to keep the political balance of the show.
& some of the regular guests, like John Wayne & Sonny Bono, were anything but liberal in their politics
Those 2 names are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to guests. The list included Cher, Robert Culp, Flip Wilson, Jack Benny(1 of the best I think.), Barbara Feldon, Lorne Greene, Kaye Ballard, James Garner, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Mel Brooks, Guy Lombardo, Vincent Price, Carol Channing, Ringo Starr etc, etc, etc. I could go on & on & on. There were so many great guests who popped up.
Some of those on the show, like Dan Rowan & Dick Martin were already fairly well known before the show started. Some, like Henry Gibson, Judy Carne & Artie Johnson had a career in movies & TV that soared even higher as a result of their being in the cast. Others, like Jo Anne Worley had a solid career but little experience with TV. Others, like Goldie Hawn & Lily Tomlin were launched into stardom by the show. & David Madden went on to be the long suffering manager of a musical family we all know as The Partridge Family.
Speaking of launches, the most famous, or infamous in some opinions, career launched by the show was Tiny Tim. For those who don't remember him he was famous for his long stringy hair, his ukelele, his falsetto voice & his biggest hit of all Tiptoe thru the Tulips. He made TV history when his marriage to Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show 17 December 1969 brought the highest ratings every to a late night show, an 85% share. I will admit to being a fan of his. I think his camp cult statis has overshadowed his talent. On 1 of his albums he sang both parts of I Got You Babe. & on his songs he sang straight, he had an excellent voice. For a while in the late 80s, early 90s he lived in Des Moines, IA. Apropriately, he died in Minneapolis from a heart attack he had while performing Tiptoe. He was buried with a tulip & his Ukelele.
Then there were the famous characters created by the show's stars. Artie Johnson brought us the WW II escapee Wolfgang, the German soldier with a crush on Lucille Ball. He also created the stereotypical dirty old man, Tyrone F. Horneigh who was always trying to show off his Walnettos (a candy bar that is still made). Ruth Buzzi brought to life Tyrone's love interest, the spinster Gladys Ormphby. Goldie Hawn played the stereotypical dumb blonde. Jo Anne Worley was the obnoxiuos loud mouth.
Gary Owens, as the announcer, bit the hand that fed him. He had had a career as an announcer before starting on the show. His overly modulated announcer carried the profession to new lows thru his oblivionism to what was going on arround.
Who could forget the Fabulous Farkel Family? There was Frank & Fannie Farkel & their whole ever changing slew of kids. The youngest was Sparkle who, like a typical toddler did a lot of flashing of her underwear. Frank was always being told by his neighbor Ferd Berfle that "That's a mighty fine looking family that you have there Frank!" Ferd should know, the kids all looked exactly like him, with neon red hair (cheesy wigs) & huge freckles. Why Frank never realized the truth is 1 of life's little mysteries, & a great comedy point in the skits. Most every visitor caught the resemblence even if Frank didn't.
Lily Tomlin created some of the greatest & 1 of the most famous characters ever. There was the Tasteful Lady, the effite snob who was anything but tasteful in the way she stood up. Sally Sorority of the Silent Majority who was a space cadet cheerleader. Then there was loveable Edith Ann, the lisping precocious 5-yr old. In her gigantic rocker, she would point out the foibles of the adults in her world with all the innocence that only a 5 yr old could have. But her most famous character was Ernestine Tomlin, the telephone operator for Ma Bell. God help anybody who crossed her by not paying their bill or misusing their equipment. William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal & President Nixon were all on the receiving end of Ernestine's wrath. Not to long ago Ernestine popped up as, no surprize, a spokesperson for a phone company.
But probably 1 of my all time favorites, even if he did spell his 1st name wrong, was Alan Sues. He had 2 great characters. When you heard "This is Uncle Al, the Kiddies' pal" you knew it was time for a send up of all those afternoon children's shows on local stations. Like several of the real life hosts, Uncle Al hated the kids & was a drunk. Unlike most of them he drank on stage & showed his hatred. My favorite was his sketches that started out with "Hi there sports fans! Big Al Here!" & a overly exagerated wave of his hand followed by his ringing a bell. This was followed by a comment about the joy his "tinkle" gave him. Big Al was a sportscaster who knew even less than I about some sports. But, the character did bring me a moment of fame my junior year in high school when at some of the basketball pep rallies as well as the year end talent show I got to be Big Al. I just wish I had his writers, my jokes were bad bad, not good bad like his.
Even the behind the scenes talent went on to bigger & better things. Chris Bearde was 1 of the writers. He went on to produce The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour & The Gong Show. Lorne Michaels took what he learned into Saturday Night Live. Producer Ed Friendly went on to produce Little House on the Prairie.
The show was fast paced, most of the bits were blackouts, less than 30 seconds. But there were some longer bits some of which I've already mentioned. Every week they would look at the news past, present & future. Each way they had the female regulars dressed up in some outlandish get up to introduce the segment. The time they were dressed up like Mae West & the time it was Tiny Tim are probably my 2 favorites. The present news was always done by "the man to whom the news wouldn't be the news without the news", Dick Martin. There was some actual event that much of it was based on, but with a twist. Her was 1 of the areas were all points of view came in for it. The news of the past was usually a very skewed interview of a historical personage. After Goldie's (usually) muddled up intro, Dan would share the news of the future (usually) 20 yrs from now. Most of the time it was so improbable to be real, like President Eldrich Cleaver, but a couple of times they hit the mark. The 1st was 1989, when Dan talked about the Berlin Wall being taken down. The other was a bit about President Ronald Reagan. Big Al did the news. At times there was Buzzy Buzzi with the gossip. Judy Carne would do some of the live remotes from places like Berkeley or the UN (which looked remarkable like a NBC soundstage).
The Mod Mod World looked at something that in the current events area. It took plenty of potshots at everything from fashion to the Olympics. Between the skits & blackouts in the segment 1 or more of the females appeared as a go-go dancer in a bikini with plenty of body art. Yes, even Ruth Buzzi, in a grass skirt, & Jo Anne Worley took their turns.
Probably their most overtly political bit was the "Flying Fickle Finger of Fate". This was an award, the other was the somewhat sarcastic "Whoopie", that they often gave to some person or group for something they really did. Yes, Congress did get theirs for some of the things they spent money on. Some government regulatory agencies got it for stupid red tape. Even some local governments who did something so stupid it made national news, won it.
They added so many catch phrases to the language. I've already mentioned a few such as "beautiful downtown Burbank". "Here comes the judge" introduced the courtroom scenes which always ended up with the accused getting hit on the head. The skits were created many years earlier by "Pigmeat" Markham, who did many of them himself on the show. "Look it up in your Funk & Wagnells" sounded dirty when said fast enough even though it refered to an actual dictionary. "Sock it to me" usually ment poor Judy Carne was about to get wet, dropped down a trap door or something worse. It was usually the intro to a series of blackouts.
1 of Dick Martin's most famous lines was "You bet your sweet Bippy!" I think everyone can figure out what a bippy was supposed to be. That phrase is still arround. I was watching Mon nite's The Journey Home on EWTN. The guest, Michael Cumbie, used the phrase in answer to a question from Marcus Grodi.
The shows roots were in vaudeville, Ernie Kovacs & the Broadway show Hellzapoppin! It was part variety show, part political satire & all funny. It did a great job at pointing out the foibles of the rich & powerful as well as the rest of us. & never maliciously.
The show could never be made today. It was too politically incorrect. The cocktail party would be seen as glorifying alcohol. Dan Rowan could never get away with his on air smoking of a cigarette. Dick Martin's learing & double, or triple, entendres would be banned. Who would dare do a Polish joke today? Even though he was in on the joke, some of the things done to & by Sammy Davis would bring cries of outrage as being racist. It wasn't. They may have been irreverent but they never crossed the line to disrespect that often comes from the left today. We have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves, esp if you're liberal. Nixon was paranoid & didn't like some of the humor at his expense, nor did LBJ. But almost everyone else got it. Today, most conservatives can laugh even if it is at themselves. Look at George Bush at this year's Washington Press Corps Dinner. But, if you dare to make fun of a liberal sacred cow they will crucify you. But, when they cross the line from humor to actual hate filled disrespect don't you dare critcize them. Very few shows today can get away with crucifying sacred cows. & none so well as Laugh-In did. & the did it without the shock talk or any of the other filth that is often spewed out today in the name of humor.
I know that it is impossible to repeat those few shining moments that were Laugh-In. But, do I wish they could: "YOU BET YOUR SWEET BIPPY!!!!!"