The Boob Tube #15: Laugh-In
When did the comedy duo go away? From Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello to Lewis & Martin and Burns & Allen - you kind of took them for granted. They used the "dumb Dora" format (the goof and the straight man) perfected in vaudeville, and it just worked. Miraculously, the Smothers Brothers and Rowan & Martin were somehow able to find great success by bringing that old vaudeville routine to the hippie era.
Rowan and Martin had performed in nightclubs for years, so these were seasoned veterans at working a crowd. These pros were just there to have a good time, and the vibe was contagious.
The show always began from "beautiful downtown Burbank" with Rowan & Martin doing their shtick. Then they led the audience to a mod party with sexy go-go dancers in bikinis and miniskirts. There'd be a little dancing, then a joke, then dancing, then a joke, etc., etc. This format was used later on The Muppet Show in the ballroom dancing sketches.
A typical joke from this part of the show:
"So, have you seen any of the shows on television this week?"
"No, this is the weakest I've seen."
[insert laugh track and dance music]
Unfortunately, it's around this point that my eyes glaze over. I'm sure many of you will disagree, but Laugh-In, overall, just doesn't stand the test of time. It's great as a time capsule, but the gags get tired quickly, and the cheeky casually absurd humor gets old before the first commercial break. Comical dance numbers and wacky one-liners just don't do it for me.
Was influential? Most definitely. Shows such as Hee-Haw and You Can't Do That On Television are direct imitations of the show. The news parody segment was borrowed a few years later on SNL (Lorne Michaels was a Laugh-In writer), and The Gong Show borrowed its ridiculously awful talent segments.
Was it innovative? Most definitely. Television before Laugh-In was pretty traditional. This non-linear format with surprise guests, helter skelter antics and psychedelic vibe was something brand new to TV.
And it was a great place to see famous people doing way out of character stunts. Dinah Shore dressed as a burlesque dancer being a perfect example...
And you've got to say this for the show- it was relentless. It didn't slow down for a second. Around every corner was a surprise, a shock, a "WTF just happened?" moment.... and yet it doesn't hold my interest in 2010. Perhaps, my mind has grown too accustomed to non-linear craziness. Maybe I can't appreciate zaniness or cheesy punchlines anymore.
A typical Laugh-In moment: Herb Alpert plays the trumpet for Judy Carne and, instead of playing music, it sprays her with water. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!! On to the next gag!
So, in my final analysis, I would say Laugh-In deserves props for its contribution to television and for its nostalgia aspect; however, it is, simply put, a dated relic.
What I would love to see one day is the Laugh-In rip-off called Turn-On. It premiered a year after Laugh-In started in 1969 and was cut after only one episode for being too raunchy! It is the shortest running TV show ever. Complaints poured in as the show was running, and the executives actually decided to pull the plug on the series within the first 17 minutes. Man, what I'd give to see that one..... anyone know where to find it?