4/28/10

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?

19 comments:

  1. If I recall correctly, the first million dollar winner on the show
    Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was asked the following:

    Which of these U.S. Presidents appeared on the television series "Laugh-In"?

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  2. Well, so far as whether Laugh-In holds up today, I have to disagree with you... I still find it at least as funny as I did when it originally aired (when I could get around to sneaking a peek at it, as I was considered too young by my parents to watch it)... actually, I probably find it funnier than it was back then!

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  3. mandy_ReevesApril 28, 2010

    laugh in was before my time...however, the Nick At Night Re runs were meh...I do like Carol Burnett when I find those to watch somewhere. Variety shows were'nt around much in the 80s and I was born in 78. I remember Barbra Mandrell's show and Pink Lady and Jeff however.

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  4. I haven't seen LAUGH-IN in a decade or so but I really did NOT think it held up. The reruns were enjoyable for many reasons--mostly nostalgia and the guest stars--but not entertaining on their own merits.

    As far as TURN-ON, I believe I've heard that you can see it at the Paley Center in NYC--the former Museum of Radio and Television. There were, by the way, several episodes of TURN-ON actually filmed, one of which would have been the final TV appearance of the post-Peter Tork Monkees had it aired! I think that one was supposed to be the third episode.

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  5. So that's where Gaga got the idea for VMA look #7.

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  6. In my house, we all watched "Laugh-In", even my Dad, who hardly watched any television in those days.It was the 'must-see-TV' of its day. But you're right, it doesn't hold up over time. In fact, by the time it was canceled in 1973, it was getting old. I think it was so wildly popular because it was something new in television. As you say, it was relentless, non-stop. It hardly mattered if a joke didn't work, another one was right behind it. I think there are two reasons it doesn't entertain today. One is, that you've seen it before. The format has been copied and improved upon over the years. The other is that it was pretty topical. A lot of the jokes need the context of the time to even make sense. As an example, seeing Richard Nixon saying "Sock it to me" was funny because we all knew what a cold fish Nixon was and presidents just didn't act that way. Since then we've seen presidents do all sorts of goofy things (Clinton playing the saxophone, Bush walking into doors, Obama shooting hoops) that nothing a president does can surprise us.

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  7. Gilligan, well done. Great pictures (as always) and I loved what you had to say. To be honest I can't remember when this show started ('68? '69?) but I DO remember being allowed to stay up on Monday nights to watch it.

    As a 7-8 year old, I thought Judy Carne was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen on tv (besides Yvonne Craig in her deep purple skintight Batgirl suit!) but us kids LOVED the 'Ruth Buzzi & Arte Johnson on the park bench' bits--when she started wailing on him with her purse...I crack up now thinking about it. Ok, say goodnight Doug!

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  8. As to influences, you forgot the Groovie Goolies.

    I LOVE Laugh-In! I haven't watched it in a few years, but I still think it's hilarious. Sure a lot of they style has been overdone or done better, but the personalities that were on the show can't be beat: Judy Carne, Jack Benny, John Wayne, Jackie Mason, the list could go on and on...

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  9. I'm curious to how old you are. I can't see how someone who didn't grow up in that time can't appreciate variety shows. Yes, there were bad ones, but some were groundbreaking, and as Retro Hound states, you couldn't beat the celebrities that participated. We certainly don't have that kind of talent now.

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  10. Barbara, are you kidding me? I've written glowing reviews for Tony Orlando's show as well as Captain & Tenniell's and Johnny Cash's... and even the Brady Bunch attempt at a variety show. I daresay, there's no one out there singing MORE praise for 70s variety shows than I. To say I don't appreciate variety shows is oh so very wrong.

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  11. I just remembered that my has repeatedly (and by repeatedly I mean she peats it over and over) told the story that the night Laugh-In debuted she had her appendix out. Dad was sitting in the room watching it and mom was trying hard to do anything that would keep her from laughing cause it hurt so bad. He wouldn't change the channel either.

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  12. That's "my Mom has repeatedly"

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  13. Laugh-in was a revelation here in Oz, we hadn't seen anything even remotely close. My all time favourite gag was the real Colonel Sanders saying "here chickie chickie"

    But it is best remembered for what it was, watching it now is a disappointment.

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  14. I had the same feeling when I recently watched the DVD of Ralph Bakshi's "New Adventures of Mighty Mouse" show. I loved it when it was originally on, but now a lot of it fell flat for me. I think it's mostly because the attitude that was so unique then has almost become the norm now.

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  15. LAUGH IN was also the admitted inspiration for SESAME STREET and the ELECTRIC COMPANY...And, you can say they initiated the pace we still see today in shows..From the manic MTV videos to today's rapid-fire loud TV ads...

    Recall NIKE AT NITE airing LI around 1988? The "News from 20 Years in the Future" segments LI did were al chillingly true by that time! Ronald Reagan DID become president, etc...!


    Al Bigley

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  16. As dated as it is, clips still make me LOL. A current commercial for IParty mimics the party scene complete with one-liners that the show was famous for.

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  17. The LAUGH-IN news parodies owe their genesis to the old THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS series which ran in the UK and US in the early '60s. One of the writers of the US version, Herb Sargent, pretty much created "Weekend Update" on SNL.

    You can in fact see at least two episodes of TURN-ON at the Paley Center in NYC, the one that aired with Tim Conway and an unaired follow-up with Robert Culp -- I've seen both of them there. The show was even more fast-paced than LAUGH-IN and the jokes were MUCH more risque.

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  18. Not wanting to contradict Interface, but perhaps I have to... when I was a wee lad watching Laugh-In on Oz TV I thought it was unbearably corny. Please forgive me now, but my thought was "those Americans will laugh at anything!"

    For the record, I thought Monty Python were funny at least some of the time!

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  19. I have to totally agree with you on this post.
    Laugh-in was a great milestone in television history, but it was a product of its time.
    I bought some DVDs of the show to relive old memories, and found that it was not as "cutting edge" as I remember. Too bad.

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