Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

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Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

In the late 1960s, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968–73) was at the cutting edge of television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) comedy. Hosted by the popular comedy team of Dan Rowan (1922–1987) and Dick Martin (1922–), this trend-setting, fast-paced, hour-long NBC show featured zany comedy skits, corny jokes, and clever visual humor performed by a cast of regulars. Millions of viewers loved the show's suggestive humor and sense of playful, goofy chaos.

The structure of Laugh-In was highly unconventional. Comedy-variety shows of the time generally featured extended comic skits, but Laugh-In did not. Rowan and Martin themselves began each program with a comic conversation in which Martin would misinterpret and mangle the simplest statements or questions put forth by Rowan. The humor that followed centered on a series of set pieces, standard skits done every week, including "The Cocktail Party," "The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award," and "Laugh-In Looks at the News." The show closed with the Joke Wall, in which cast members stuck their heads out of holes in the wall and cracked one liners—and were often met with a bucket of water tossed in their direction.

The show featured a cast of comics that included Goldie Hawn (1945–), who often appeared in a skimpy bathing suit; Lily Tomlin (1939–), who appeared as Ernestine, an obnoxiously prissy, nasal-voiced telephone operator, or as Edith Ann, a cheeky little girl; Arte Johnson (1929–) and Ruth Buzzi (1936—), who played a dirty old geezer and a prudish frump with a handbag who viewed herself as the object of his unwanted advances; Alan Sues (1926–) as an idiotic sports announcer; and Henry Gibson (1935–), who often appeared with flower in hand, spouting shallow poetry. Hawn and Tomlin went on to become major stars, Hawn in movies and Tomlin in movies and on Broadway (see entry under 1900s—Film and Theater in volume 1).

What made Laugh-In such a revolutionary TV show was its fast-paced visual style. The show spawned the once wildly popular catchphrases "Sock it to me," "You bet your bippy," "Verrry interesting," "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls," and "Here come de judge." Finally, the show often featured a surprise celebrity guest. Some of the era's most popular actors and TV personalities popped up on the show, usually to deliver one-liners, with their appearances often lasting only seconds. One of the oddest, and funniest, Laugh-In guests was Richard Nixon (1913–1994), who, in the fall of 1968, two months prior to being elected U.S. president, soberly proclaimed, in question form, "Sock it to me?"

—Rob Edelman

For More Information

Erickson, Hal. From Beautiful Downtown Burbank: A Critical History of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, 1968–1973. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.

"Rowan and Martin's Laugh In." YesterdayLand. (accessed March 20, 2002).