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Monday, August 14, 2017


Finally, a comedy show that was ALL comedy.  No out of character chit-chat, no maudlin songs, no fake sincerity--just wall-to-wall silliness that kept going right through the closing credits and beyond.  Joke followed gag followed blackout followed non sequitur, with absolutely no qualms about coming off as supremely silly.  As a kid, I felt as though the show had been designed specifically with me in mind.

The format would start to get tired and a bit worn out as time went on, but in 1968, during the groundbreaking, trailblazing ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Time-Life, 4-disc DVD), it seemed like a totally fresh, endlessly inventive comedy powerhouse.

Dan Rowan, the cigarette-puffing straight man who looked like he should always have a bourbon on the rocks in his hand, and Dick Martin, the wisecracking "funny" one who seemed to have already had a few, were like dinner-theater comics who'd stepped into their own network comedy show by surprise and decided to have the time of their lives.

The cast were an eclectic bunch of crazies who would almost all become household names--Jo Anne Worley, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, "Get Smart" star Barbara Feldon, Henry Gibson, Eileen Brennan, Larry Hovis, announcer Gary Owens, and "sock it to me" girl Judy Carne.  The show's biggest star, Goldie Hawn, would enter the scene in the third episode and become the show's reigning dumb blonde.

The jokes came fast and furious, practically piling up on each other, much of them silly sight gags and wordplay.  Weekly features included "The Party", "News of the Past, Present, and Future", "Sock It To Me" Time, "The Joke Wall", "It's a Mod, Mod World", and "Potpourri."  All were just excuses for more comic madness. 

And despite the show's counterculture vibe, much of it is actually your standard "old fogey"-type comedy with a veneer of feigned "hip"-ness--a weird mixture to be sure.  But it seemed fresh and rebellious at the time because it was so different from the usual straightlaced variety shows (such as Carol Burnett's over on CBS).

The "Party" sequences play like Hugh Hefner's "Playboy After Dark"--complete with middle-aged swingers awkwardly dressed in mod clothes--but packed with oodles of groan-worthy one-liners ("My brother's a Quaker--some of his best Jews are friends", "I wanted a nose job, but my husband said it would be like putting a new luggage rack on a 1953 De Soto.")

The jokes cover previously taboo subjects such as birth control, marijuana, race, and various kinds of sex, with the censors seemingly letting them get away with a lot more than usual.  But this was back before everyone was so easily triggered and being politically incorrect was an act of social rebellion by the counter-culture against the "establishment."

Weekly guest stars doing their bit(s) included Flip Wilson, Harry Belafonte, Milton Berle, Johnny Carson, Cher, Tim Conway, Sammy Davis Jr., Sally Field, Jerry Lewis, Muriel Landers, Kaye Ballard, Sheldon Leonard, Tommy Smothers, and even John Wayne.  The infamous ukulele-playing folk singer Tiny Tim, who became a superstar because of the show, makes three separate appearances.

The DVD set from Time-Life contains four discs with 14 remastered episodes.  Disc one's bonus features include a cast reunion, blooper reel, a new interview with creator and executive-producer George Schlatter, and the show's entire pilot episode.

ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON was a blast in its time and still comes through as fresh and funny, but with added nostalgia value.  It's just as much a treat to watch now as it was back in 1968.

Buy it at

Street Date: September 5, 2017

Dan Rowan
Dick Martin
Pamela Austin
Ken Berry
Eileen Brennan
Ruth Buzzi
Judy Carne
Barbara Feldon
Henry Gibson
Goldie Hawn
Larry Hovis
Arte Johnson
Gary Owens
Jo Anne Worley

Format: DVD/4 Discs
Running Time: 869 minutes
Genre:  TV DVD/Comedy
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: Stereo


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