Friday, June 02, 2000

R&M LAUGH IN: Format

A typical episode's format

Shortly after the beginning of the show, after a minute or two of Rowan/Martin standup, Rowan would intone: "C'mon Dick, let's go to the party". This live-to-tape segment comprised all cast members and occasional surprise celebrities dancing before a 1960s "Mod" party backdrop, delivering one- and two-line jokes interspersed with a few bars of dance music (later adopted on The Muppet Show, has an end-credits scene that is similar to "The Cocktail Party" with absurd moments from characters).
"The Mod, Mod World" segment, with its own signature tune, comprised brief sketches on a theme interspersed with film footage of female cast members go-go dancing in bikinis, their bodies painted with punchy phrases and pithy wordplay. The dancers were usually Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne and Chelsea Brown; Ruth Buzzi and Jo Anne Worley popped up rarely, as did frequent guest Pamela Austin. In the 1969/1970 season, the chore was handled briefly by new cast members Teresa Graves and Pamela Rodgers before the go-go dancing became the domain of uncredited extras.)
The Farkel Family, a couple with many kids —all of whom had flaming red hair and freckles like neighbor Ferd Berfel (played by Dick Martin). Head of the family Frank Farkel never questioned this fact when Ferd visited. Most plots were excuses to force the cast into tongue-twisters ("That's a fine-looking Farkel flinger you found there, Frank"). Bespectacled baby daughter Flicker Farkel (played by Buzzi) had no lines except screaming "Hiiii!!!" Two of the kids were twins named Simon and Gar Farkel (played by cast members of different races; originally Goldie Hawn and Chelsea Brown, later Pamela Rodgers and Teresa Graves).
"Laugh-In Looks at the News," a parody of network news (introduced by an unnews-like song and dance in varying motifs) commenting on current events. The segment often included "News of the Past" which lampooned historical events, and "News of the Future", predicting unlikely or bizarre future stories to comic effect. Rowan actually nailed some, mentioning "President Ronald Reagan" in a story from "1988, 20 years from now", eliciting laughter. Another prediction, that the Berlin Wall would be destroyed in 1989, also came true, although the follow-up gag that it would be "quickly replaced by a moat full of alligators" obviously did not. The news segment was reminiscent of BBC's earlier That Was the Week That Was and in turn, was echoed a few years later by Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segments. Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels was a Laugh-In writer early in his career.
New Talent Time, introducing oddball variety acts. The most famous of these performers was Tiny Tim. Comedian Paul Gilbert, father of actress Melissa Gilbert, appeared as inept "French" juggler "Paul Gilbert" (pronounced "jheel-bare" in the French manner). Comic Art Metrano appeared as "The Great Metrano," a so-called magician who had no skill at all. Laugh-In writer Chris Beard liked the "New Talent" concept and later developed it into The Gong Show.
The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award, saluting actual dubious achievements by the government or famous people. The trophy was a gilt, outstretched finger atop a square base. "The flying, fickle finger of fate" was already a familiar catchphrase on the show (Dan Rowan would use the phrase when ushering "new talent" like Tiny Tim on stage).
Judy Carne was often tricked into saying "Sock it to me", which led to her being doused with water or otherwise assaulted. "Sock it to me" also became a catchphrase. During the September 16, 1968 episode, Richard Nixon, running for president, appeared for a few seconds with a disbelieving vocal inflection, asking "Sock it to me?" Nixon was not doused or assaulted. An invitation was extended to Nixon's opponent, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, but he declined. According to George Schlatter, the show's creator, "Humphrey later said that not doing it may have cost him the election."
At the end of every show, Dan Rowan turned to his co-host and said, "Say good night, Dick", to which Martin replied, "Good night, Dick!" (varying a bit from the old George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show). The show then featured cast members opening panels in a psychedelically painted 'joke wall' and telling jokes. As the show drew to a close and the applause died, executive producer George Schlatter's clapping continued even as the screen turned blank and the production logo, network chimes, and NBC logo appeared.