DVD Review: People May Have Been Funny, But Art Linkletter Was Sadistic
The release of the three-disc People Are Funny collector’s set by Film Chest and American Pop Classics will give viewers second thoughts about the oh-so-innocent fabulous fifties. Sixteen episodes culled from People Are Funny’s first season (1954) introduce modern viewers to a show that—even by twenty-first century standards—was weird and wacky in a very warped way.
Hosted by the affable Art Linkletter, People Are Funny was a game show in which participants were either pranked or took part in pranks. Some of the pranks took months to put together, were featured on several episodes of the program, and were quite elaborate. Others were simple and easily accomplished. Linkletter took particular delight in those that would cause people the most distress, and his audiences were with him all the way. What makes these old shows so funny (and unbelievable) is that many of the pranks involved illegal activities and were mean-spirited at best.
The first “prank” presented allegedly took months of preparation and should have resulted in Linkletter and his staff either in jail, as defendants in a civil suit, or maybe the recipients of a good butt-kicking. It also illustrates the show’s major weakness, which is overlong explanations of the planning that went into the pranks. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter were a young married couple who rented a house in the Los Angeles area. Through some machinations, they are sent on a trip to San Francisco, and as soon as they returned they were whisked to the People Are Funny studio. There Linkletter told them that he is going to test their powers of observation. He has $100 for them if they can tell him the exact number of windows in their house. For each window above or below the correct number Linkletter will deduct $10. She said twelve, he guessed eighteen, and they compromised and said sixteen. The couple was then driven to their home to count the windows.
Once the appropriately-named Hunters were offstage, Linkletter explained that while they were in San Francisco, “we” removed their house. In fact, People Are Funny originally leased the house, furnished it, rented it to the Hunters, arranged for their trip to San Francisco, and hired a house-mover to remove and hide it. The Hunters’ personal belongings were packed up and moved to a hotel where the Hunters would spend the next few weeks while looking for their missing house.Continued on the next page