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Series / Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

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The cast during the second season (196869).note 

Gary Owens: This show has been prerecorded to give the cast a chance to get away.
Wolfgang: Veeeeery eenteresting, but they'll never make it across the border. *laughs maniacally*

An iconic, anarchic hour-long Sketch Comedy series broadcast on NBC from 1968 to 1973 (after a one-off Pilot special aired in September of 1967). Created by George Schlatter, it broke new ground in American TV comedy with its rapid-fire jokes, outrageous characters and — for the time — utterly insane and over-the-top humor. The show's ostensible hosts were the urbane Dan Rowan and the somewhat dim Dick Martin, but this tuxedo-clad pair were frequently outshone by the platoon of seeming lunatics who made up the rest of the cast.

The show is best known today for the future stars whose careers it launched — Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Tiny Tim, Henry Gibson, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Pat Paulsen, and Jo Anne Worley among others — and the incredible comic moments it managed to pull off (such as then-presidential-candidate Richard Nixon asking America to "sock it to him"). Until the birth of Saturday Night Live several years later, Laugh-In was the touchstone of modern American humor. (SNL emulated it, in some ways — perhaps unsurprisingly, because many Laugh-In writers later worked on SNL, including the later show's creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels.) It was possibly the single largest source of Running Gags, Catch Phrases and other pop culture contributions during the middle of the 20th century, and developed during its surprisingly brief run an utterly unique and frenetically subversive style that carried them directly into the subconscious of the viewer. Because of its wild and unpredictable yet intelligent style, it was also often very successful at getting surprisingly risque material (for the era) on the air — usually by setting up apparently-innocent situations where the viewer's mind would fill in the blanks with suitably dirty punchlines and speculations of their own.

Regular features of the show included Rowan and Martin's opening "monologue", Gladys and Tyrone the Dirty Old Man on the park bench, the "cocktail party", the not-quite adventures of the Farkel family, "Laugh-In News" and the end-of-episode "joke wall". (The joke wall started to be used intermittently in season six, with some episodes not having joke wall at all.) In addition to the videotaped studio sketches, there were also a large number of filmed bits, most of them running gags, including most famously Judy Carne and Goldie Hawn go-go dancing, and the raincoated man on his tricycle. Every episode had a celebrity Special Guest who participated in the anarchic goings-on, usually with gleeful good humor. Certain stars, like Tiny Tim, were particular favorites and were brought back episode after episode until they were almost members of the main cast themselves. Video clips of previous guest stars would also frequently show up on later shows as punchlines, setups or simple Reaction Shots.

Part of the show's charm was due to Schlatter's tendency not to do retakes, leaving bungles, bloopers and cast crack-ups in place for broadcast. (In fact, he often deliberately provoked Goldie Hawn into fits of giggles on-camera just so he could film and broadcast her laughing.) This gave the impression of a show that was often completely out of control and on which almost anything could happen. The often psychedelic set design just added to it, although Laugh-In never did any kind of overt hard drug humor (although most episodes had a coy marijuana one-liner or two).

George Schlatter attempted to recreate the success of Laugh-In for ABC by cloning it into a show called Turn-On. However, the first episode of Turn-On was met with so many complaints about its quality that it was either banned from airing, cancelled fifteen minutes into the episode (The Other Wiki says the last sketch that aired was one where a woman violently shakes a vending machine that dispenses birth control pills), or aired in full and then never again. (Viewers also complained about flashing animations and rapid-fire visual switching — which some of Sesame Street's animations normalized and made commonplace a few months later.)

Before the 1970's were over, Schlatter would try once again with a proper revival of Laugh-In. It too, failed, but even so, it proved that Schlatter's eye for comedic talent had in no way diminished — the cast he assembled for the revival included several performers who later went on to stardom or superstardom, including a then-unknown Robin Williams.

Laugh-In's influence is extremely obvious in such shows as Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, You Can't Do That on Television, and the aforementioned Saturday Night Live.

In 1969, Brown & Bigelow made a deck of Laugh-In playing cards, and NBC had a short-lived daytime Panel Game, Letters to Laugh-In. There were also a syndicated Newspaper Comic based on the show and a Hasbro Board Game called "Squeeze Your Bippy".

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Family: Frank Farkel and his wife, Fanny, and their kids (some alliterated, some rhymed, and some were just puns) - Sparkle (and her sometimes twin Charcoal) Farkel, twins Simon & Gar Farkel, Mark Farkel, Fritz, Flicker, and Fred Farkel.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Alan Sues' characters often fit into this slot, so to speak.
  • Animated Adaptation: Baggy Pants and the Nitwits featured as its titular "Nitwits" animated versions of Gladys and Tyrone — the latter with super powers (specifically, a magic sentient cane). They were remade into a husband-and-wife pair.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Wolfgang appeared quite a bit more during season four, due to Arte Johnson wanting star billing.
    • Gary Owens was seen a lot more during the parties and in some other sketches starting from season four's beginning, as well.
  • Berserk Button: Jo Anne Worley doesn't like to hear chicken jokes.
  • Big Red Devil / The Devil Is a Loser: Dennis Allen as Satan in the hellish news briefs that Dan and Dick sometimes invoke in their season six news sketches, as a direct contrast to Lily Tomlin's Angelic Beauty character and heavenly news reporter Angel Goode.
  • Blackface:
    • Done three times and mostly in the style of the traveling minstrel, with the first of it in season two's 25th episode and for the news portion intro by Judy, Goldie, Jo Anne and Ruth, with Chelsea doing equally whiteface with the singing portion with Tony Curtis. It was done in that episode in a brief sketch with Judy and Chelsea, as well.
    • Ruth Buzzi did so again in season four's 14th episode as well for a segment about the late show movies.
    • Barbara Sharma did it briefly as well for a Shirley Temple-Black joke near the end of season four, which could be considered cringeworthy at this point.
  • Brainless Beauty: Pamela Rodgers and Donna Jean Young were both very attractive and known for their airheadedness on-show; While Pamela often made vapid sexual jokes in season three, Donna Jean played this relatively straight in season six.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Larry Hovis, in a huge callback, ended up coming back as a regular performer for season five after having left at the end of season one... which ended with him leaving at the end of season five.
    • Teresa Graves, who had disappeared at the end of season 3 due to Get Christie Love, came back for two episodes in season four near its end before she left again.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • JUDY. Judy Carne, so very much. She got it the worst... though whenever it wasn't her, it was everyone else's turn at one point. Here are some notable non-Judy examples...
    • Dennis Allen could be considered the second major version of this as got this regularly from season four onwards with a LOT of drenchings and trap doors, but primarily as Chaplain Bud Homily and at times, himself. It continued in seasons five and six by way of him as Homily receiving snow, balloon boulders, water and trap doors all in one. Sometimes overlaps with No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, as shown below.
    • Lily Tomlin received some of it too as Mrs. Earbore at times with water, along with a few trap doors. Sometimes she also received water as the cheerleader character that she played, too.
    • Barbara Sharma WAS this at the end of season four with a few drenchings herself, though it only happened sometimes whenever she said "Why not?" to Dennis or mockingly laughed at whoever received it.
    • Even Gary Owens wasn't immune to this. He shockingly got a sock-it clock nearly pummeling him as well as a dousing of water, a trap door and a balloon mallet in season two. It was revisited in season four when he was ran over by a giant wheel and for a final time in season six when he was doused with water for the 'Emergency Comedy System'.
  • Call-Back: SO MANY!
  • Catchphrase: The show had several:
    • "Sock it to me!"
    • "You bet your sweet bippy."
    • "Here come da judge! Here come da judge!"
    • "Is that a Chicken Joke?!"
    • "Veeeeerrrrrrry eeenteresting...but stupid!"
    • "And that's the truth! (*raspberry*)"
    • "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!"note 
    • "Blow in my ear and I'll follow you anywhere."
    • "Beautiful downtown Burbank."
    • "Here comes the big finish folks!"
    • "Which Henny Youngman?" "Oh THAT Henny Youngman!"
    • "AM and FM."
    • "Mervin, that was magnificent!"
    • "Pookie-pookie-pookie!"
    • "That's funny, so did I!" said by Dick whenever Dan would disbelievingly repeat a particularly outlandish claim of Dick's (which was often)
    • "Say Goodnight, Dick." "Goodnight, Dick."
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
  • Commuting on a Bus: Judy Carne was absolutely tired of being the "sock it to me" girl due to the constant splashings and trap doors she endured and with some of the more irascible fans doing this to her off-screen as well, declared it "one big, bloody bore" and originally leaving after season two but guested through season three, although her appearances in Laugh-In became less and less frequent, especially once Lily Tomlin became a core cast member.
  • Couch Gag: From season four onwards, Gary Owens would have a different explanation as to what the acronym NBC stood for while reading the opening credits each episode.
  • Crossover: One episode of I Dream of Jeannie featured many Laugh-In cast guest appearances as Jeannie is discovered and set to guest star in an episode. Mad About You had one as a Dream Within a Dream, as well.
  • Cutaway Gag: Due to the rapid-fire one-liners and commonly employed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Patti Deutsch is a regular example of this in season six, especially as both her characters Sister Mary Youngman and Helen Cosell.
  • Dirty Old Man: Arte Johnson's character Tyrone F. Horneigh, who was always making crude come-ons to Gladys Ormphby (Ruth Buzzi's repressed spinster character) and getting bopped in the head with her handbag.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Dan Rowan often smoked a pipe during the show, when he wasn't smoking cigarettes.
  • The Ditz: Played absolutely straight by Goldie.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • Byron Gilliam started out as early as season two, but wasn't in the intros until season three. Also counts as Demoted to Extra due to Gilliam being only a dancer during the remainder of season three and permanently for seasons four and five.
    • Richard Dawson had a few in season one and was uncredited during parts of season four, but became a regular performer in season five, serving all the way to the end.
    • Johnny Brown near the end of season three as well, but became a regular on season four.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Segments from the 1st season often were slow-paced, especially in the pilot special.
    • Morgul the Friendly Drelb counts as one, too, due to being a pink Abominable Snowman who was supposed to be a regular gag. He was horribly received however, so Gary Owens started mentioning him along with himself during cast introductions from seasons one to three, which stopped at season four's beginning.
    • Some earlier episodes also had shots of the audience too, as well, but was stopped after the first episode in season one, as well as whenever the parties had happened the cast and guest stars would often go in rows of two whenever telling jokes. It stopped in season two.
  • Fair for Its Day:
    • Invoked. A few examples include Dennis Allen and Richard Dawson as the Chinese and Russian border guards in the news sketches respectively in season six; Sarah Kennedy was also no different as a stereotypical Japanese woman within that season, while back in seasons four and five Ann Elder portrayed a Native American for laughs. Some of the ethnic humor back then invokes this by name for its time.
    • Some of it can be found in the beginnings of the news sketches, as well. Season six is one of the worst offenders in that regard to this trope.
  • Flipping the Bird: Subverted as it was unknowingly done rather innocently by Dennis Allen in season five's 7th episode during a movie theatre sketch.
  • Gag Series: One very much for its time, still timeless today.
  • Giftedly Bad: Lisa Farringer, coupled with High Hopes, Zero Talent and being The Scrappy for season six's later episodes. Just about most of her "jokes" ended with the word whoopee and a camera shot panning towards her face.
  • Kid-Appeal Character: Eight-year-old Moosie Drier was added to the cast in 1972, seemingly with this trope in mind.
  • Large Ham: Alan Sues and Jo Anne Worley. Both of them could be Chewing the Scenery like no other could, though everyone had their moments.
  • Laugh Track: The Smash Cut-heavy nature of the show made it necessary to use "sweetening" to avoid abrupt cuts in laughter.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac:
    • Dick Martin's entire show persona in a nutshell. This was especially evident in the cocktail party, where most of his segments were him making come-ons and other sexually-themed jokes to various ladies.
    • Arte Johnson's "Tyrone F. Horneigh" character, who was constantly making crude come-ons to Gladys.
    • Jo Anne Worley's jokes during the cocktail party were often raunchy gags about her and Boris' various naughty escapades.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: Frank Welker whenever he was a guest. He was a real king of this, too.
  • Moral Guardians: Lily Tomlin's Mrs. Earbore, a.k.a. the "Tasteful Lady" was a parody of this trope.
  • Musical Episode: Subverted as they were more like musical interludes, such as season one having Strawberry Alarm Clock, Holy Modal Rounders and most notably from The Bee Gees and Kenny Rogers in the form of the First Edition. Some of it returned in season five with Three Dog Night.
  • Narrator: Sort of — Gary Owens as the announcer.
  • News Parody: Several variations, including Dick doing a standard satiric look at today's headlines, Alan Sues' sportscaster, Ruth Buzzi's gossip columnist, and Dan providing the "News of the Future" — a couple of which proved to be startlingly accurate, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and Ronald Reagan becoming president.
  • N-Word Privileges: Innocently invoked by Pamela Rodgers in a season three episode when she asks why cigarettes were called 'fags', with Jeremy Lloyd humorously turning the joke back on her with a case of Double Entendre.
  • No Fourth Wall: Dan would often invite the audience along with himself and Dick before they walked into the cocktail party.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Done for laughs during the series by Dennis Allen, particularly whenever he does do something good in a sketch only for his luck to horribly change. A particular sign of whenever it happens is when either he says something that the other character or characters take offensively and punch him or whenever a word gets spoke from him to trigger the punch. It's also more prominently found in 'The Innocent Bystander' sketches.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Much of the show's humor hasn't aged particularly well, and will likely be lost on non-Baby Boomer viewers, although it does have its fans among young audiences today.
  • Only Sane Man: Dan Rowan often played this role, reacting to Dick's or the other members' zaniness.
  • The Operators Must Be Crazy: Ernestine exemplifies this trope perfectly. However, her most famous line, ("We don't care. We don't have to. We're the telephone company.") was actually from a later Ernestine bit Lily Tomlin did on Saturday Night Live.
  • Perky Female Minion: Barbara Sharma played this up as a devotee of Spiro Agnew all throughout season four.
  • Pilot: Produced in 1967 and aired as a special on NBC a few months before the series debut. There's some notable Early-Installment Weirdness (a slightly slower pace, a studio audience, no Gary Owens, a clean-shaven Dan Rowan), but the format and several of the cast mainstays are already in place. Rowan even gives a Title Drop in the opening monologue, after explaining the connection to "love-ins" and "be-ins".
    Dan Rowan: A "laugh-in" is a frame of mind. A chance to sit back, laugh and forget about the other "-ins".
  • Pun-Based Title: A play on the various "____ -in" protests of the era (sit-in, love-in, pray-in, be-in, etc.).
  • Put on a Bus: Brian Bressler in season six, as he was replaced by Kathy Speirs, who was soon replaced by Lisa Ferringer for the remainder of the show's existence.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: An early example, which made the censors uncomfortable. Lampshaded in the Reunion Show.
  • Reunion Show: Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 25th Anniversary Celebration. Netflix did one in late 2019 entitled "Still Laugh-In", which also doubled as an anniversary show.
  • Revival: George Schlatter attempted to near the end of the 70's, which didn't work out so well without Dan and Dick's permission.
  • Revolving Door Band: A non-musical example. Other than the hosts, announcer Gary Owens and actress Ruth Buzzi were the only constants in the entire five-year run.
  • Running Gag: Quite a bit of them. Some like the blah-blah man played by Chet Dowling were prominent in season four, especially his other role Mervin the Magnificent.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • Done regularly, by both the regular cast members and the Special Guest stars. One of many examples:
      Tony Curtis: Wherever I go, people always ask me about Laugh-In. And they always ask the same thing; why?
    • At the end of his introduction, Owens would usually make some reference to "Morgul, the Friendly Drelb"; this was in reference to a pink yeti-like thing that appeared in the first few episodes and was horribly received.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Johnny Brown used this at times in season four playing a king using much bigger and smarter words for allowing station identification breaks.
  • Signature Transition:
    • Dan introduced Dick for "News of the Present" with the Motor Mouthed intro phrase "And now for the News of the Present, here's the man for whom the news wouldn't be the news without the news. Heeeeeere's Dicky!" along with turning and pointing from his waist. When Dick finished his bit, he mimed swinging a golf club to transition over to Goldie so she could introduce Dan for "News of the Future".
    • The "Cocktail Party" skit was almost always introduced by Dan, at the end of the opening monologue, saying something about going to the party and inviting the audience to join them; he and Dick would then walk through a double door into the Party's set.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase
    Dan Rowan: Say goodnight, Dick.
    Dick Martin: Goodnight, Dick.
    • That might've been the origin of the "say goodnight, Gracie" misquote.
    • After Rowan would announce "it's now time to say goodnight, Dick," several shots of cast members and guests stars saying "Goodnight, Dick" would follow, as well as a random joke ("Who's Dick?"). For a long time after the first season it had stopped, but it returned in season five in full form.
  • Slapstick: Dennis Allen specialized in this, to which Richard Dawson and Alan Sues utilized on him with mostly predictable results.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: If some of it is to be believed, George Schlatter might be considered this. It may have ultimately been the reason why Dan Rowan and Dick Martin wrested control of the producing credits from him for season six, which proved to be the last.
  • Smash Cut: All over the place, as an essential part of the Rapid-Fire Comedy.
  • Special Guest: Just about every star of the day, often popping up unannounced in the midst of sketches. Sammy Davis Jr. was probably the most frequent, but Nixon was by far the best-known example.
  • Subverted Kids' Show: "Uncle Al".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Blonde, ditzy Sarah Kennedy, who joined the cast in the sixth and final season, was clearly intended to be "Goldie Hawn v2.0".
  • Take Our Word for It: The Joke Wall from the Monkees guest-episode goes particularly off the rails, with almost everyone either fumbling or corpsing.
    Judy: Jeremey!'s the "long black wig joke".
    Jeremy: Oh yes, and it's very funny too!
    Judy *to the audience*: You would have loved it!
  • Ten Paces and Turn: Played for laughs. Dan Rowan and another man each take a pistol from a case being held by a woman (presumably she's the one they're dueling over). They each take three paces, turn and fire - at the woman, killing her. The two men then walk off-screen together, arm in arm.
  • Throw It In: Laugh tracks in those days were created via a machine with several keys that would cue up tape loops of prerecorded laughter in a way similar to a Mellotron. When the first episodes were being "laughed up", a key stuck after the closing credits' "standing ovation" was recorded. That key cued up a recording of Charley Douglass - the man who invented the Laugh Track for television - clapping by himself. The operator later apologized for the accident, but the producers loved how unintentionally funny the sarcastic-sounding one-man applause was, and used it regularly during the show's end titles after that.
  • Those Two Guys:
    • Season two had Chelsea Brown paired up with Byron Gilliam, while in season three had Byron paired up with Teresa Graves; Pamela Rodgers was paired up at times with Jeremy Lloyd, too. Dennis Allen and Alan Sues were paired up together as badminton players in some segments during season four. Season five had Richard Dawson either paired up with Larry Hovis or Barbara Sharma while season six had Jud Strunk paired with Brian Bressler initially, but then paired him up with either Willie Tyler or Dennis Allen; Richard Dawson saw more interaction with Patti Deutsch or Ruth Buzzi as a result.
    • One of the few pairings in-show that was constant were Dennis Allen and Lily Tomlin, roughly on the same level of Ann Elder and Dick Martin whenever that happened in season five. Dennis then got paired at times with Sarah Kennedy as Lance and Tina Proudfoot in season six.
  • That Wacky Nazi: Arte Johnson's Wolfgang.
  • Totally Radical: Humor for and about Sixties youth culture, presented by middle-aged comedy veterans. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
  • Trap Door: Along with regular water drenchings, very much so. The first few seasons had Judy Carne as a regular target due to her designated role as the show's Butt-Monkey, but after her departure, nearly everyone had become a target... especially Sammy Davis, Jr..
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • "Bippy" for the rear end. You'll be betting your sweet bippy before long though.
    • "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!"
  • Vanity Plate: "George Schlatter/Ed Friendly Productions, in association with Romart", accompanied by Charley Douglass' clapping (see above).
  • Ventriloquism: Willie Tyler is definitely this with Lester in the final season, though without him Tyler has shown he could pull off sketches by bringing laughs on his own, too.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: New Yorker Lisa Farringer as the Whoopee girl.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser:
    • Dick Martin actually did some of this in a few episodes, but the most prominent of it was Alan Sues in his Jo Anne Worley impersonation.
    • Willie Tyler also did this in season six's beginning as the Edith to Lester's "Archie" in an All in the Family parody sketch.
    • Subverted with Brian Bressler near the last of his appearances in season six, as he plays a detective Disguised in Drag, instead.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Laugh In


Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

Ruth Buzzi and Jo Anne Worley did skits where they were both in the pillory together.

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