Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

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Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was a United States comedy television show broadcast from January 22, 1968 through 1973 over the NBC network. The title Laugh-In was a play on a popular 1960s concept called a "love-in," where people would get together to protest war by singing songs and holding hands. Hosted by the comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin (Rowan played the exasperated straight man, Martin the horny, dumb guy), the show was characterized by a rapid-fire series of gags and sketches; many of them carried sexual innuendo, others were politically charged, and most were just silly.


A typical episode's format

  • Shortly after the beginning of the show was a scene called The Cocktail Party, with all cast members dancing in a swinging 1960s party atmosphere, in between delivering one- and two-line jokes.
  • "The Mod, Mod World" segment, with sketches based around a common theme, would be interspersed with footage of some of the female castmembers go-go dancing in bikinis, their bodies painted with gags. (This was usually done by Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne and Chelsea Brown; Ruth Buzzi and Jo Anne Worley popped up rarely, as did frequent guest star Pamela Austin. In the '69-'70 season, the chore was handled briefly by new castmembers Teresa Graves and Pamela Rodgers before the go-go dancing became the sole domain of uncredited extras.)
  • The Farkle Family, a couple with a lot of kids - all of whom had flaming red hair and freckles just like the next-door neighbor (Ferd Berfle; played by Dick Martin). Father Frank never questioned this fact when he visited the Farkles. Most "plots" were cheap excuses to force the cast into horrendous tongue-twisters. Flicker Farkle, the youngest (played by Buzzi), had no lines except screaming "Hiiii!!!"
  • "Laugh-In Looks at the News," a parody of a network newscast commenting on current events, "News of the Past" which lampooned historical events, and a segment on "News of the Future," predicting bizarre unlikely future news stories. (Rowan actually nailed one, mentioning a "President Ronald Reagan" in a story from "1988, 20 years from now".) This was years before Saturday Night Live offered its own parody news.
  • The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award, noting dubious achievements by the government or famous people.
  • Judy Carne was often tricked into saying "Sock it to me," which then led to her being doused with water or otherwise assaulted. "Sock it to me" became a catch phrase for the show. During the September 16, 1968, episode, Richard Nixon, who was running for President, appeared for a few seconds and asked the question, "Sock it to me?" According to the DVD liner notes, an invitation was extended to Nixon's opponent, Hubert H. Humphrey, but he didn't accept. Some people even credit that brief appearance for handing the very close election to Nixon that year.
  • At the end of every show, Dan Rowan turned to his co-host and said, "It's time to say good-night, Dick," to which Martin replied, "Good-night, Dick" (reprising a bit from the old George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show). The show then featured various cast members opening panels in a psychedelically painted 'joke wall' and telling short jokes to one another. As the show drew to a close and the general applause died down, the sound of one person clapping continued even as the screen turned blank.

Memorable castmembers/guests and their running gags

  • Arte Johnson portrayed a number of recurring characters, including:
    • Wolfgang, the Nazi soldier, commenting on the previous gag by saying Verrry interesting, sometimes with additional comments such as "...but schtupit!" He would close each show by talking to Lucille Ball and the cast of Gunsmoke — both airing opposite Laugh-In on CBS.
    • Tyrone F. Horneigh, the dirty old man coming on to Ruth Buzzi (as Gladys Ormphby, an extremely drab old lady in a hair net who also frequented the Cocktail Party) seated on a park bench, who inevitably hit him with her purse. Both the Horneigh and Ormphby characters returned in the "Nitwits" segments of the 1977 animated television show "Baggy Pants and the Nitwits".
    • Rosmenko, the Eastern European Man, who stood stiffly and nervously in an ill-fitting suit while commenting on differences between America and "The Old Country," such as "Here in America, is very good, everyone watch television. In Old Country, television watches you!" This predated a similar schtick by Yakov Smirnoff.
    • Rabbi Shankar (a pun on Ravi Shankar), an Indian guru dressed in a Nehru jacket dispensing pseudo-mystical Eastern wisdom laden with bad puns.
  • A man in a yellow raincoat riding a tricycle, crashing, and falling over.
  • Los Angeles disc jockey Gary Owens standing with his hand cupped over his ear, giving announcements, often with little relation to the rest of the show.
  • Henry Gibson holding a flower and reading offbeat poems.
  • Henny Youngman telling one-liner jokes for no apparent reason. (Often, any corny one-liners would be followed by the line, "Oh, that Henny Youngman!")
  • Lily Tomlin as the obnoxious telephone operator "Ernestine" ("We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company") and as a child named "Edith Ann" ("And that's the truth. Pbbbt!"). (Tomlin also famously performed Ernestine for Saturday Night Live, and Edith Ann on children's shows such as The Electric Company.)
  • Alan Sues ("Big Al") as a clueless and fey sports anchor who loved ringing his bell, which he called his "tinkle."
  • Goldie Hawn was the giggling dumb blonde who would say many a time: "I forgot the question."
  • Jo Anne Worley would sometimes sing songs showing how loud her operatic voice was but mostly would detect "chicken jokes." Many times, during the Cocktail Parties, she talked about her boyfriend Boris (who was a married man).
  • Flip Wilson, whose frequent character, the cross-dressing "Geraldine," originated the phrase "What you see is what you get."

Memorable moments and catchphrases

The show gave considerable publicity to singer Tiny Tim, an unusual-looking man with long hair who sang in a falsetto voice while accompanying himself on ukulele. Thanks to his appearances on the show, he achieved a hit single with his piercing version of the vintage 1920s song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." Tiny Tim was later married on the Tonight Show to a woman known as Miss Vicky.

Other musical moments came in the first season with some of the first music videos ever seen on TV, with cast members appearing in film clips set to the music of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Bee Gees, the Temptations and the First Edition.

Cast members Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn later became noted film stars. Henry Gibson later starred in the Robert Altman film Nashville (which also featured Tomlin). Dave Madden, whose trademark on the show was to throw a handful of confetti while keeping a deadpan expression at the punch line of a joke, later played the role of Reuben Kincaid in the television sitcom The Partridge Family. Richard Dawson, who previously had a regular part in the sitcom Hogan's Heroes, went on to his defining role as host of the U.S. television game show Family Feud. Teresa Graves parlayed her one season on the show into the title role of the police drama Get Christie Love!

Besides the ones mentioned above, the show created other popular catch phrases:

  • "I didn't know that." (Dick Martin's occasional response as to what will happen on an episode)
  • "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's"
  • "Go to your room"
  • "Uncle Al had a lot of medicine last night" (famous line by Uncle Al, the Kiddies' Pal, played by Alan Sues)
  • "You bet your sweet bippy"
  • "Here come the judge!" (reprising a bit first made famous by comedian Pigmeat Markham and continued by frequent guest star Sammy Davis, Jr.)
  • "'Ello, 'ello! NBC, beautiful downtown Burbank." (the response to the calls received by a switchboard operator played by Judy Carne)
  • "One ringy-dingy...two ringy-dingies..." (Ernestine's responses to the rings that would occur while she was waiting for someone to pick up the receiver on the other end of the phone lines)
  • "A gracious good afternoon. This is Miss Tomlin of the telephone company. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?" (Ernestine's greeting to people who she would call)
  • "You are not dealing with just anyone's fool. I am a high school graduate." (Ernestine's response to show how intelligent and clever she was...even though she really wasn't)
  • "I just wanna swing!" (Gladys Ormphby's catchphrase)
  • "Is that a chicken joke?" (Jo Anne Worley's outraged cry, a takeoff on the Polish jokes of the day)
  • "Here comes the big finish, folk!" (usually before the last of a series of guest stars' bad puns)

There was also a Laugh-In Magazine published for about two years; it was similar to MAD Magazine. A comic strip was also seen in newspapers and published in paperback form.

Cast comings and goings

The show was #1 in the ratings for the 1968–69 and '69–70 seasons. At the end of '68–69, Judy Carne chose not to renew her contract as she wanted to pursue other projects, though she did make occasional appearances during '69–70; producer George Schlatter blamed her for breaking up the "family." The show also survived the departures of Goldie Hawn, and Jo Anne Worley to remain a top-20 show in '70–71. New faces in the 1970–71 season (joining Tomlin, who first appeared late in the previous season) included tap dancer Barbara Sharma, who would later appear on Rhoda, and Johnny Brown, who later gained fame as the superintendent 'Bookman' on Good Times. Arte Johnson and Henry Gibson would depart after the 1970–71 season, replaced by Dawson and Larry Hovis, both of whom had also appeared occasionally in the first season. However, the loss of Johnson's many characters caused ratings to drop farther.

The show celebrated episode #100 in the '71–72 season; Carne, Worley, Johnson, Gibson, Graves and Tiny Tim returned for the festivities. John Wayne was also on-hand for his first cameo appearance since 1968.

For the show's final season (1972-73), Rowan and Martin assumed the Executive Producer roles from George Schlatter (known on-air as "CFG", which stood for "Crazy F***ing George") and Ed Friendly; a mostly new supporting cast (save holdovers Dawson, Owens, Buzzi and only occasional appearances from Tomlin) was brought in, but the viewers didn't respond and the show was cancelled. This final season, which included future Match Game panelist Patti Deutsch and ventriloquist Willie Tyler of Willie Tyler and Lester fame, never aired in the edited half-hour rerun package that was syndicated to local stations in 1983 and later aired on Nick at Nite. The cable network Trio started airing the show in its original one-hour form in the early 2000s, but only the pilot and the first 69 episodes (extending to the fourth episode of the 1970–71 season) were included in Trio's package. Two "Best-of" DVD packages are also available; disappointingly, they only contain six episodes each.

Of the over three dozen entertainers to grace the cast, only Rowan, Martin, Owens and Buzzi were there from beginning to end (although Owens wasn't in the 1967 pilot and Buzzi missed two first-season episodes.)

In 1977 Schlatter and NBC briefly revived the property as a series of specials with an entirely new cast. Among the new folks was a then-unknown Robin Williams — whose starring role on ABC's Mork & Mindy one season later prompted NBC to rerun the specials as a summer series in 1979.

See also: Farkle, Alan Sues, Jo Anne Worley.

Regular Performers (with season numbers, where known)

Regular guests

More Celebrities Who Have Guest-Starred

External links


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