Am I excited about the upcoming (January 22) 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking NBC comedy-variety series “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”?
You bet your sweet bippy!
Stars such as Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, Judy Carne, Goldie Hawn and Jo Anne Worley made “Laugh-In” America’s No. 1 show for two of its six seasons.
Although some of the bawdy repartee and ripped-from-the-headlines political satire (about the Pill, the anti-war movement, smog and the drug culture) went over my innocent little head, the breakneck one-liners and zany sight gags brightened my Monday nights and made quite an indelible impression.
The show left such an impact on my generation that even a year or two after it went off the air, members of my class at Connelly Junior High School threw together our own version of “Laugh-In.” I hammed it up playing announcer Gary Owens (broadcasting from “beautiful downtown Burbank”), but the undeniable highlight of the presentation was a spoof of Big Wally foaming cleanser, with Joel Hargrove bursting through a (fake) wall to rescue a beleaguered housewife with the must-have properties of the miracle product.
The nickname “Big Wally” stuck with Joel. I’m glad we have our fond memories, because the skit could never be written quite the same in today’s touchy environment. Big Wally would sheepishly mutter something like, “Sorry to invade your safe space. I could tell you about this can of stuff, but that would be mansplaining. I’ll just non-judgmentally ask why you’re stuck in the kitchen instead of running a corporation and be on my way.”
The series is finally out on DVD; but TV reruns have been spotty over the years, largely because programmers think the topical show doesn’t age well. Ironically, these are the people scrambling for face lifts, sports cars and trophy wives.
Because of decades of limited exposure, once-hip phrases such as “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls,” “Want a walnetto?,” “Here come da judge,” “Flying Fickle Finger of Fate” and “Verrry interesting — but shtupid!” mean nothing to most members of the younger generation. But then neither do phrases such as “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” “I’m not paying to heat the entire outdoors” and “No, you can’t borrow my credit card to have your spleen pierced.”
To my shame, I usually overlook “Laugh-In” when citing the major influences on my writing; but that early exposure to current events and cockiness is certainly entwined with my creative DNA.
Especially when I write “News of the Past” and “News of the Future” articles.
You know, like “Boston, March 10, 1876: Alexander Graham Bell suffered severe battery acid burns after summoning assistant Mr. Watson and then realizing, ‘Oh, crud! I forgot that I slowed down his phone without telling him!’”
Or “Washington, January 28, 2025: President Oprah Winfrey encourages cabinet members Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz to spin off and run their own countries.”
Or even “July 4, 2050: As the psychedelic Wall on the Mexican border was finally completed, a holographic 5 1/2-year-old Edith Ann popped out to announce, “The Mexicans paid for it, and that’s the truth — PFFFFT!”
We’ve had “Saturday Night Live” and “In Living Color,” but TV has never really replicated the rapid-fire insanity of “Laugh-In.” For punchy commentary, we’ll have to content ourselves with Facebook memes, short YouTube videos and internet trolls.