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Saturday, March 17, 2018


IMDb calls it "the original rapid fire sketch comedy show." Which is exactly what drew me to the first season when I was a kid--one relentlessly silly joke after another, coming at us pretty much non-stop until the very last second of the show.  No guest vocalist singing sappy love songs, no June Taylor dancers, and best of all, no discernible bounds of taste or restraint.

ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, a 7-disc DVD set from Time-Life, shows us how the free-form, surreal, unstructured, utterly and unabashedly silly conglomeration of sight gags and creaky one-liners continued with even more abandon into the show's third year without any sign of running out of steam.

If anything, by this time the show had really found its footing and established a solid basis from which to go off in any direction they chose at any time. None of the show's regular features are ever in the same order, and sometimes the intro doesn't occur until five minutes in or more.

Running gags intentionally drive already-flimsy jokes into the ground during the course of an episode.  One-liners that would've had vaudeville audiences groaning are delivered in quick succession as though they were comedy gold, scoring the occasional bullseye. 

Bloopers abound; like Red Skelton before them, these people realize that the mistakes are often funnier than the scripted material, and their performances are so loose and uninhibited it's often hard to tell the difference.

Comedy duo Dan Rowan (straight man) and Dick Martin (giggling sex-crazed wacko) are a couple of straight-looking but silly guys in suits who co-opt just enough of a seemingly modern attitude to appeal to the "kids" while also playing up to the older drink-in-hand, wife-swapper crowd as seen in the regular "Party" segment that plays like an episode of "Playboy After Dark." 

It's all a weird combination of pseudo-hip and cringe-inducingly corny humor that pretends to be "with it" but really pokes fun at the counterculture, hippies, etc.  Still, there's a distinctly liberal slant to the show's humor although today much of that humor would be considered very politically-incorrect.  Topical references to such then-trending things as "Myra Breckinridge", the Viet Nam war, air pollution, and the space program abound. 

Other familiar segments are "Mod, Mod World" (where we see the famous bikini girls with one-liners painted on their bodies), "Laugh-In Salutes", "The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award" (usually awarded to some current political or social pariah), "The Joke Wall", and "Laugh-In News of the Past, Present, and Future."  These offer an excuse to have jokes follow a particular theme for awhile until chaos takes over again.

The returning cast is comprised of solid comedy pros such as Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, deadpan announcer Gary Owens, Judy Carne, Ruth Buzzi, and the hilarious Jo Anne Worley (the "Laugh-In" women are way more talented than the ones on the later SNL, save perhaps for Gilda Radner). Flip Wilson is such a frequent guest as to be a semi-regular. 

Newer cast members include kewpie doll Pamela Rodgers, mildly amusing Brit comic Jeremy Lloyd, and token black castmembers Teresa Graves and Byron Gilliam, who are consigned to doing the usual 70s "jive" humor most of the time.  (Graves would later score her own classic series "Get Christie Love!")

My favorite newer castmember is the wacky, eye-rolling Alan Sues, thanks to his aggressive, flamboyantly-gay persona and regular characters consisting of perpetually hungover kids' show host Uncle Al ("The Kiddies' Pal") and bell-ringing sportscaster Big Al ("Oh, I just love my tinkle!").
The show scored lots of big and not-so-big guest stars eager for a chance to look hip and be silly, including Ringo Starr, Eli Wallach and wife Anne Jackson, Diana Ross, Carol Channing, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Sid Caesar, Debbie Reynolds, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Monkees Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, and Mickey Dolenz, comic Jackie Leonard (a natural for the show with his old-style burlesque humor), Sonny and Cher, Lana Wood, Peter Sellers, Buddy Hackett, Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Phyllis Diller, Michael Caine, Romy Schneider, Mitzi Gaynor, and many more.

Especially noteworthy in this, the third season, is the debut of Lily Tomlin and her trademark characters, precocious little girl Edith Ann ("And that's the truth") and brash, snort-laughing telephone operator Ernestine ("Is this the party to whom I am speaking?")  Tomlin went on to become a post-"Laugh-In" comedy superstar, but those of us who remember her debut here will find these episodes quite nostalgic. 

One thing that appealed to me about the show as a kid is its similarity to a live-action issue of MAD Magazine with its grab-bag abundance of satires, parodies, song spoofs, running gags, and blackout comedy bits reminiscent of Sergio Aragones' cartoons that filled the margins of every page. 

ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON is just such an immersive experience in sublime silliness that you'll want to watch from cover to cover. 

Format: DVD/7 Discs
Running Time: 1413 minutes
Genre: TV DVD/Comedy
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: Stereo
Street Date: March 20, 2018
DVD SRP: $39.95
Bonus features: exclusive new interview with Lily Tomlin, and the featurette "Still Laugh-In -- A Tribute to George Schlatter".

Read our original coverage HERE

Read our review of the complete first season HERE


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