The time is the turbulent 60’s, 1968 to be precise. The Vietnam War has reached its zenith and an ill wind is blowing through many college campuses that dot the country. Kids are growing their hair longer and expressing themselves in ways that make their parents shake their own heads in disbelief. Riots are happening in the streets in some of the larger cities throughout the country. Racial tension is on the rise. Cable television is not even on the horizon and Saturday Night Live hasn’t been dreamed up yet.
I guess the “in” thing at the time was to be some kind of “in”. There were love-ins, sit-ins, peace ins, tune ins, be-ins and teach ins. What the country needed was a good laugh. NBC stepped to the plate and decided to give Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In a try. It was a rather bold move at the time. The show’s format, a comedy ensemble, had never been tried before. Each skit usually lasted a minute or so and the viewer could never anticipate what was going to happen. The show, “Coming to you from beautiful downtown Burbank” aired on Monday evening at 8:00pm. Television history was about to be made.
The viewing audience was about to be introduced to such things as:
The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award. Also lovingly known by such names as the The Rigid Digit, Winged Weenie, Wonderful Wiggler, Friendly Phalange and Nifty Knuckle, the award was given out to the dumbest (and there were plenty of them, believe me) newsmaker of the week.
The Cocktail Party, another staple of the show. Usually accompanied by music and scantily (for the time) clad dancers. The music would stop and the people would freeze. The camera would pan to a couple partygoers who exchange a joke or two and the music would resume. All of this took about a minute or two.
A psychedelic Joke Wall. This was usually at the end of each show and featured the cast opening and closing doors on the wall and telling a quick joke or two and breaking down into hysterics.
The Farkle Family. The parents, Fred and Fanny Farkle had a bunch of kids whose first name all began with the letter F except for the baby. Her name was Sparkle Farkle.
Laugh In Looks at the News. A weekly look at the current events of the world. They also did “News of the Past” and “News of the Future”. Definitely a precursor to SNL’s weekly satire on the news.
Richard M. Nixon
, then a candidate for the highest office in the land saying “Sock it to me
A veritable plethora of sayings that became part of the American lexicon
. Some of them have faded over time and some, well, bring a smile to my face even today when I hear them. Some of the more popular ones were;
“And that’s the truth
. (This was followed by the ever popular Bronx cheer
“You can look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls”
“You bet your Sweet Bippy”
“Here come da judge!” (My memories are of Sammy Davis Jr
wearing a robe and a white wig carrying a gavel in one hand and shaking his finger of the other as he cavorted across the screen).
“We’re the phone company. We don’t care. We don’t have to.”
“Was that a chicken
joke.” (Apparently, one of the cast members, Joanne Worley was on a crusade to save the world from chicken jokes.).
And much, much more.
There were drug references, there were gay references, there were anti-war references, and there was John Wayne , the penultimate American hero right there on the show, reciting, of all thing, poetry, looking like he was having a good time. There was Arte Johnson, dressed as a Nazi soldier with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth saying to Bob Hope “Ve’ve bin vaiting for you to come”. He looked like was having a good time. Wanna know who else was having a good time? (Besides me!). Here’s a smattering of some of the folks who either hosted or made a cameo appearance on the show. Talk about diversity!
Buddy Hackett, Lorne Greene, Cher, Tiny Tim, Peter Lawford, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Harry Belafonte, Jack Benny, Hugh Hefner, Marcel Marceau (he spoke!), Dick Gregory, Liberace, Kate Smith, Tony Curtis, Evangelist and TV preacher Billy Graham, Peter Sellers, Diana Ross, The Monkees, Carl Reiner, Ringo Starr, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Zero Mostel, Rod Serling, Vincent Price, Gore Vidal, Wilt Chamberlain, Marcello Mastroianni, Truman Capote, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Liza Minelli, Bing Crosby, Petula Clark, Johnny Cash, Gene Hackman, Isaac Hayes, James Caan, Oral Roberts and Ernest Borgnine to name a few.
The show doesn’t stand up too well in reruns. I guess that’s because much of the humor was topical and based on events of the day. Some of us older folks who lived during that time and might have experienced those events definitely have fond memories of the show. For some of you younger folks out there, you might get the humor, you might not, but at least you have to appreciate the groundbreaking nature of the show. How some of the skits made it through the censors, I’ll never know.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot.
Sources: much of this is culled from what few brain cells I have left. As for the rest.
PS. If anybody has some favorite Laugh In moments that they want included, please /msg me and I'll get 'em in there. Thanks!