Sock it to Me by
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Prompted By Variety Shows

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Did you spot Tiny Tim shaking hands with John Wayne in the featured image from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In? Remember his rendition of Tip Toe Through the Tulips? I was never a lover of Ed Sullivan (except for the famous Beatles performance) or Carol Burnett, but boy did I enjoy Rowan and Martin and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

I was never a lover of Ed Sullivan (except for the famous Beatles performance) or Carol Burnett, but boy did I enjoy Rowan and Martin and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Laugh-In’s reign, from January 22, 1968, to March 12, 1973, coincided with the early years of my marriage. We were young and suckers for joke walls, irreverent humor, and the youthful cast. Who could resist the young, giggly Goldie Hawn misreading her lines, or Judy Carne shouting out “sock it to me” and getting doused with water? Or Lilly Tomlin’s Edith Ann in a huge rocking chair or her telephone operator Ernestine’s “one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy”? Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Jo Anne Worley, Gary Owens, and Henry Gibson were stand out cast members. The show was silly and, in retrospect misogynistic, but for a couple of immature semi-hippies back then, it was hilarious. Perhaps because it was the antithesis of shows our parents enjoyed, we loved it.

 

Preceding and overlapping Laugh-In’s reign was another show we adored, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967 to 1969). This show actually had something to say, and its satirical, irreverent, anti-war underpinnings resulted in CBS yanking it from the air for being too controversial and firing the brothers even though the show had been renewed for a fourth season. Dick (the straight man) and Tom (his goofy, guitar-playing brother) sued CBS based on freedom of speech and won.

There was a lot of great comic talent on that show. Steve Martin (who also did magic tricks), David Steinberg (famous for his mock sermons), and Pat Paulson (running for President), among others. More like a traditional variety show, they featured guest musicians and comics, but aside from The Beatles there wasn’t much overlap with Ed Sullivan’s guest line up. And who can forget Tom’s frequent lament, “Mom always loved you best”?

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Khati Hendry says:

    I agree, Smothers Brothers were the best! More a comedy show than a variety show for me, and I liked them better than the Laugh-in slapstick. But you are right, that Laugh-in was a kind of breakthrough in how a show could be, quick and snappy and irreverent. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Fun reading about your early-married , semi-hippie days and your TV choices Laurie!

    I’m sure we watched many of them too but I don’t remember being especially enamored of any except the talented Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner on the Show of Shows..

    And I remember enjoying a drama called – i think – Playhouse 90,, altho I guess that doesn’t count as a variety, dog-and-pony show! And I did love the June Taylor dancers, and Marge and Gower Champion! who appeared pretty regularly on TV in those days.

    As I remember we had a black and white TV, and when we had a baby we treated ourselves to a color set. Kids today are probably incredulous hearing we all started our TV watching on b & w!

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, you and I are of one mind! While I also talk about a few other shows in my story, The Smothers Brothers and Laugh-In were definitely my favorites. If either show was on TV now I would still watch it! Also, I love the record jackets you use for your featured image and for the Smothers Brothers – are those photographs of albums you actually own? I bet they would be fun to listen to!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      While we did buy comedy albums, whatever we had bit the dust in the move. So I will confess I googled those images. I agree we have similar senses fo humor, which are of course a sign of appreciating great comic talent.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Loved seeing David Steinberg on The Smothers Brothers. He was always a favorite. It took me a while to warm up to the silliness of Laugh-In, but I did come around and then became a regular viewer. Everyone had to be on that show (as Suzy points out). Even Nixon softened his image by saying, “Sock it to me” with that dead-pan of his. Now that was funny!

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for these reminders, Laurie. I wnjoyed Laugh In, but always considered it more of a purely comedy show, than a variety show. Were there any musicals guests on it?

    Clearly the Smothers Brothers Show had musical guests, and, of course, they were musicians themselves. But it was delightful, and subversive, to watch them transcend their own terrific musical talent. Could anyone harmonize as well as they could? And also take such brave political stands in such an explosive time, all while smiling through it?

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, I don’t remember if Laugh-In had musical guests. It was so purely silly that I enjoyed it. Not sure it would hold up now except for some of the great comic characters like those created by Lily Tomlin. The Smothers Brothers were brave to battle the censorship of the time, even though it led to their cancellation. I think I would still enjoy watching their show today. Will have to check YouTube.

  6. Marian says:

    You are right, Laurie, it’s difficult to imagine a variety show entertainer taking a principled stance the way the Smothers Brothers did. Always enjoyed that show, and of course, Laugh-In. I think that show was a silly release from the stress of that time. Remember Dan Rowan doing “General Bull-Right”? A more indirect way of pointing out the idiocy of Viet Nam.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I’m with you, Marian. Those were tough times. You could choose to laugh and be silly, which was likely the thing that lead to SNL. Or you could take your stand, even though you would be censored and cancelled. Have to admire the brothers Smothers for that. Maybe more like John Oliver today, although HBO lets him do his thing and we give him Emmys for it.

  7. Susan Bennet says:

    Laurie, thank you for your thorough treatment of these two shows. I had forgotten the depth of their respective casts. What talent–and think of how many of them went on to big careers. Dana, I have vague memories of Sid Caesar, and some of his bits I may not have seen until years later. One of the funniest was his pantomime of an audience member who resists being called on stage during an episode of This is Your Life. One of the best comedy bits ever.

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