Sep 28, 2020

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.  And what could be more boring than someone standing in front of a microphone, singing?

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.

I can't watch the old episodes broadcast on Amazon Prime.  The lightning speed gives me a headache, and the jokes are sophomoric; only children would think it hilarious to say "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnells."  The cast members are just big kids, saying things that sound dirty on the playground.

But between 1968 and 1973, the jokes 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. Flower child Henry Gibson appeared with a gigantic artificial flower and recited nonsequiter poems.  He was 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 Islandd), competing with another guy 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.


  1. Um, it's spelled "Carol Burnett"

  2. Possibly my favorite godawful premise for a real Saturday Morning kids cartoon that ran for a season: BAGGY PANTS AND THE NITWITS. Baggy Pants was a cartoon cat version of Charlie Chaplin but the major league weird came from The Nitwits. Remember the dirty old man played by Arte Johnson and the miserable spinster played by Ruth Buzzi? They were portrayed as a married couple. In fact, the old man was an aged ex-superhero come out of retirement and the woman was his Lois Lane, who often stepped in and handled the bad guys herself when his powers went on the blink.
    Who thought this was a good idea? Who?

  3. Nick at Nite. So I remember Nixon. Clearly something if it made Nixon look hip.

    I do remember my dad explaining what "sock it to me" also meant. Suffice to say, a lot of media dating tI the 60s and 70s got a lot funnier.

    1. I'm not sure what the Nixon "Sock it to me" scene was going for, but I think he was the first sitting president to make a joke on national television.

  4. The appeal of the freakish Tiny Tim escapes me?! Was he a figure of camp or was he taken as a joke at the time?

  5. Sammy Davis, Jr. was the one who strutted across the stage & said "Here comes the judge"


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