Sep 1, 2016

Confusing Children and Angels: Laugh-In

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, my  friends and I hated variety shows: Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Carol Burnette, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell (left).  They were old, square, has-beens.

But Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (1968-73) was for us: not exactly variety, or even sketch comedy, but comedic slogans zapped across the screen at lightning speed.

1. Judy Carne yells "Sock it to me!" and gets socked.

2. Rowan and Martin give the "Flying Fickle Finger of Fate" award.

3. Zsa Zsa Gabor gets big  laughs by saying the word "bippy."

4. A Nazi spy peers from the undergrowth ("Verry interesting")

5. A spaced-out Goldie Hawn forgets her line and giggles.

6. Flip Wilson's drag persona Geraldine offers herself to all comers: "What you see is what you get."

7. Pigmeat Martin struts across the stage, jive-talking "Here come da judge!"

8. A dirty old man makes mumbling propositions to a purse-wielding spinster.

9. Gary Owens as a baritone-voiced announcer makes nonsequiter announcements.

10. Jo Anne Worley says"Blow in my ear, and I'll follow you anywhere," and giggles.

Today the lightning speed gives me a headache, and the jokes seem sophomoric; only children would think it hilarious to say "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnells."  The cast members were just big kids, saying things that sound dirty on the playground.

But between 1968 and 1973, they were bright and fresh, and risque and cool.  Most importantly, they were ours.

No beefcake, except for an occasional hot guest star, like Davy Jones of The Monkees.  
Not much bonding, not even from hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, a comedy team since 1952.
No one ever acknowledged the existence of gay people.

But there was lots of gender nonconformity.  Years later we remembered it fondly, as the first hint of gay potential.

1. Alan Sues played Big Al, a feminine sports announcer who had an obsession with a bell he called his "tinkle."

Gay but never out, Alan Sues also played a fey grown-up Peter Pan on peanut butter commercials.

2. Tiny Tim, who looked like a long-haired Dracula, played the ukelele and sang "Tiptoe through the Tulips" in a fey falsetto.  He proved he was heterosexual by marrying a woman named Miss Vicky on The Tonight Show.

3. Fey flower child Henry Gibson appeared with a gigantic artificial flower and recited nonsequiter poems. Often assumed gay, although he was married to a woman for 40 years.

In his last role of note, Magnolia (1999), he played a cranky older gay man named Thurston Howell (after the millionaire on Gilligan's Island) competing with quiz kid Donnie (William H. Macy) for the attention of hunky Brad the Bartender.  He advises: "It's a dangerous thing to confuse children with angels!"

Between 1968 and 1973, we often confused children with angels.