Laugh-In’s silli­ness still fun, even for those born af­ter ’73

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - JEN­NIFER NIXON

What is it? Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, com­plete se­ries, 140 hour­long episodes on 38 discs from Time Life

How much? $250 When? Now

What’s a “laugh-in”? A twisted, trippy take on the “ins” of the 1960s: Be-ins. Love-ins. Sleep-ins. As host Dan Rowan says, “A laugh-in is a frame of mind.” A chance to “sit back, laugh and for­get about other ‘ins.’”

It was Sept. 9, 1967, and the Viet­nam War was rag­ing, “Sum­mer of Love” had just ended and hip­pie cul­ture was trans­form­ing the coun­try. Beins. Love-ins. Sit-ins. That’s when an odd spe­cial aired on NBC.

There were march­ing pro­test­ers hold­ing signs read­ing “Thamp out lith-ping” and “Up with mini skirts.” A wild dance party with an Arab sheik pour­ing drinks, joke-telling and gogo danc­ing guests. A lit­tle song trib­ute to the eye­lash. And an avian-theme song about Lady Bird John­son, Amer­ica’s first lady at the time.

It was so pop­u­lar that a full se­ries was cre­ated start­ing on Jan. 22, 1968. It lasted for five, ut­terly in­sane sea­sons (to May 14, 1973) and, over the years, its cast in­cluded Lily Tom­lin, Arte John­son, Ruth Buzzi, Jo Anne Wor­ley, Henry Gib­son and a very young Goldie Hawn.

The sketch com­edy se­ries was, es­sen­tially, a zany, offthe-wall satire, pok­ing fun at ev­ery­thing from miniskirts to Congress. Noth­ing was sa­cred. Of course, side-by-side with the satire and po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary were bizarre bits like Ruth Buzzi gig­gling to the tune of “Hol­i­day for Strings.”

Each episode started off with an in­tro­duc­tion by straight man Dan Rowan and dim-wit­ted Dick Martin. From there, it tum­bled down into chaotic nut­ti­ness that would in­clude re­cur­ring char­ac­ters, sketches and jokes such as:

Cast mem­bers would pop out from be­hind lit­tle doors or win­dows in a big, brightly col­ored wall to tell jokes.

Judy Carne would find her­self doused with wa­ter, bopped on the head, fall­ing through a trap door or oth­er­wise suf­fer­ing some calamity ev­ery time she said “Sock it to me.”

In­fu­ri­at­ing, ob­nox­ious tele­phone op­er­a­tor Ernes­tine (Tom­lin) made prank calls and oth­er­wise made life hell for cus­tomers.

In the Party Scene, cast and guests would dance away to mod­ern mu­sic, then make some off-the-wall or po­lit­i­cally tinged com­ment ev­ery time the mu­sic stopped.

And don’t for­get all the catch phrases: “Here comes the judge,” “You bet your sweet bippy,” and “Ve-e-e-ry in­ter­est­ing.”

The show was pop­u­lar enough that it was able to at­tract a pretty amaz­ing list of guest per­form­ers. Co­me­di­ans like Jack Benny and Johnny Car­son and nov­elty acts like Tiny Tim aren’t too sur­pris­ing. But see­ing stoic John Wayne recit­ing po­etry and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Richard Nixon say­ing “Sock it to me” are down­right sur­real and awe­some.

How is it? Game-chang­ing, mind-bend­ing, thought-pro­vok­ing. But more than that, it’s just plain funny.

The show is fast-paced, even by to­day’s stan­dards. If one joke falls flat, it doesn’t mat­ter be­cause be­fore you know it, it’s on to the next sketch.

One minute, it’s as sub­stan­tial as Silly String. The next, it’s as sharp as barbed wire.

Granted, the fact that much of the com­edy cen­tered on top­i­cal hu­mor means much of it is very dated now. But for peo­ple who were alive then or who have made a study of the time pe­riod, the jokes are easy to get. Ev­ery­one else can get a lit­tle harm­less his­tory les­son.

And, of course, learn that if Queen El­iz­a­beth mar­ried Steve McQueen, she’d be Queen McQueen.

The set comes in a sturdy, psychedelic stor­age box. The col­or­ful book­let is full of pho­tos, quo­ta­tions and a short essay. Each sea­son set has a sea­son guide with a break­down of episode con­tent.

What about bonus fea­tures? There’s a sep­a­rate bonus disc that has:

■ The 25th An­niver­sary Cast Re­union TV spe­cial from 1993, which is a 50-minute group in­ter­view in front of an au­di­ence.

■ A 28-minute in­ter­view with ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ge­orge Sch­lat­ter

■ A 19-minute in­ter­view with cast mem­ber Alan Sues

■ Footage from the Emmy Awards ti­tled “How We Won the Em­mys”

Scat­tered over the sea­son discs are more in­ter­views, the pi­lot episode, an epic (24 min­utes) blooper reel, a 52-minute filmed trib­ute to Sch­lat­ter and high­lights from that 25th an­niver­sary re­union.

New this week: Homi­cide: Life on the Street, com­plete se­ries; When Calls the Heart, “Heart of a Teacher”

Next week: Class, Sea­son 1; The Ma­gi­cians, Sea­son 2; The Miss­ing, Sea­son 2; Rake, Sea­son 2; The Tun­nel, Sea­son 2; Un­der­ground, Sea­son 2

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