Feature: A View from the Id

Discover The Best of Laugh-In, March 5 on PBS

Author: Bob Etier
Published: February 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Forty years ago, the most adorable thing on television was a twenty-something, blonde goofball named Goldie Hawn. Besides being incredibly cute, her specialty seemed to be tripping over her lines and giggling. Such was the stuff of Laugh-In, a weekly sketch-comedy program that debuted in 1968. Hosted by Rowan and Martin, drawing its name from sixties societal events (sit-ins, love-ins, be-ins), and employing an ensemble of talented performers, Laugh-In was a sure bet for an hour of fun on a Monday evening.

PBS looks back at the series that transformed television on March 5 (air dates vary; check local listings) with The Best of Laugh-In, hosted by Laugh-In co-creator George Schlatter. How did Laugh-In transform television? Its influence can be seen on Saturday Night Live, Turn-On, The Mad Show, SCTV, Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and many other imitators.

Performers on Laugh-In (technically, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In) included Goldie Hawn, Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Judy Carne, Lily Tomlin, JoAnne Worley, Gary Owens, Theresa Graves, Ruth Buzzi, Flip Wilson, and Henry Gibson—all of whom created memorable characters that were frequent pop culture references. Not only changing television, but invading language, Laugh-In had Americans saying “Sock it to me,” “You bet your sweet bippy,” “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls,” “Blow in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere,” and “Very interesting” (delivered in a German accent, of course).

One-liners inspired by bumper stickers, buttons, and protest signs were interspersed among sketches and “the news.” Coming at a turbulent time in American history (has there been any other kind?), Laugh-In was often controversial, politically and sexually. It’s many stellar guests (Frank Sinatra, Richard Nixon, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Billy Graham, Johnny Carson, Sally Field, Liberace, James Garner, Cher, William F. Buckley, Kirk Douglas, Tiny Tim, Kate Smith, and on and on) contributed to both the hilarity and the controversy (John Wayne recited a poem titled “The Sky by John Wayne” in the style of banal poet Henry Gibson, “The sky is blue, The grass is green, Get off your butt, And join the marines.”)

Countless words have been written (and spoken) extolling the virtues—such as innovation—of Laugh-In, but to really understand what those words mean, tune in to The Best of Laugh-In and relive a little bit of television history.


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Article Author: Bob Etier

Two words describe Bob Etier: "female" and "weird." Like many freelance writers, there's something about her that isn't quite right. Read her stuff and find out what.

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