Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

Dan Rowan (left) and Dick Martin (right), 1968
Also known as 'Laugh-In'
Genre Variety show
Created by
Directed by
  • Gordon Wiles
  • Mark Warren
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 140 (list of episodes)
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) George Schlatter-Ed Friendly Productions in association with Romart Inc.
Original network NBC
Original release January 22, 1968 (1968-01-22) – March 12, 1973 (1973-03-12)
Related shows

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (often simply referred to as Laugh-In) is an American sketch comedy television program that ran for 140 episodes from January 22, 1968, to March 12, 1973, on the NBC television network. It was hosted by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin and featured, at various times, Chelsea Brown, Johnny Brown, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Richard Dawson, Moosie Drier, Henry Gibson, Teresa Graves, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Larry Hovis, Sarah Kennedy, Jeremy Lloyd, Dave Madden, Pigmeat Markham, Gary Owens, Pamela Rodgers, Barbara Sharma, Jud Strunk, Alan Sues, Lily Tomlin, and Jo Anne Worley.

Laugh-In originally aired as a one-time special on September 9, 1967, and was such a success that it was brought back as a series, replacing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Mondays at 8 pm (ET). The title of the show was a play on the "love-ins" or "be-ins" of the 1960s hippie culture, terms that were, in turn, derived from "sit-ins", common in protests associated with civil rights and antiwar demonstrations of the time.

In 2002, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was ranked number 42 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[1]


Laugh-In had its roots in the humor of vaudeville and burlesque, but its most direct influences were from the comedy of Olsen and Johnson (specifically, their free-form Broadway revue Hellzapoppin'), the innovative television works of Ernie Kovacs, and the topical satire of That Was The Week That Was. The show was characterized by a rapid-fire series of gags and sketches, many of which conveyed sexual innuendo or were politically charged. The co-hosts continued the exasperated straight man (Rowan) and "dumb" guy (Martin) act which they had established as nightclub comics.


Caricatures of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin by Sam Berman

Each episode followed a somewhat similar format, often including recurring sketches. The show started with a short dialogue between Rowan and Martin. Shortly afterward, 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, which had a recurring segment that was similar to "The Cocktail Party" with absurd moments from characters). The show then proceeded through rapid-fire comedy bits, taped segments, and recurring sketches. The cocktail party was similar in format to the "Word Dance" segments of A Thurber Carnival.

At the end of every show, Rowan turned to his co-host and said, "Say good night, Dick", to which Martin replied, "Good night, Dick!". 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 solitary clapping continued even as the screen turned blank and the production logo, network chimes, and NBC logo appeared.

Although most episodes include most of the above segments, the arrangement of the segments was often interchanged.

The show often featured guest stars. Sometimes, the guest had a prominent spot in the program, at other times the guest would pop in for short "quickies" (one- or two-line jokes) interspersed throughout the show - as was done most famously by Richard Nixon, when running for president.


Goldie Hawn and Ruth Buzzi in a 1968 Halloween skit
Rita Hayworth reprised her Sadie Thompson character on the show in 1971.

Pilot and season 1

Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Henry Gibson, Larry Hovis, Arte Johnson, and Jo Anne Worley appeared in the pilot special from 1967. (Goldie Hawn joined for season 1 in 1968). Only the two hosts, announcer Gary Owens, and Carne, Gibson, and Johnson, were in all 14 episodes of season one. Eileen Brennan, Hovis, and Roddy Maude-Roxby left after the first season.

Season 2

The second season had a handful of new people, including Alan Sues, Dave Madden, and Chelsea Brown. All of the new cast members from the second season left at the end of that season, except Alan Sues, who stayed on until 1972.

At the end of the 1968–69 season, Judy Carne chose not to renew her contract, though she did make appearances during 1969–70; producer George Schlatter blamed her for breaking up the "family".

Seasons 3, 4, and 5

The third season had several new people who only stayed on for that season, Teresa Graves, Jeremy Lloyd, Pamela Rodgers, and Stu Gilliam. Lily Tomlin joined in the middle of the season. Jo Anne Worley, Goldie Hawn, and Judy Carne left after the season.

New faces in the 1970–71 season included tall, sad-eyed Dennis Allen, who alternately played quietly zany characters and straight man for anybody's jokes; comic actress Ann Elder, who also contributed to scripts, tap dancer Barbara Sharma, who later appeared on Rhoda, and beefy Johnny Brown, who played the superintendent Nathan "Buffalo Butt" Bookman on Good Times.

Arte Johnson, who created many memorable characters, insisted on star billing, apart from the rest of the cast. The producer mollified him, but had announcer Gary Owens read Johnson's credit as a separate sentence: "Starring Dan Rowan and Dick Martin! And Arte Johnson! With Ruth Buzzi ..." This maneuver gave Johnson star billing, but made it sound like he was still part of the ensemble cast. Johnson left the show after the 1970–71 season. NBC aired the pilot for his situation comedy Call Holme, but it never became a series.

Henry Gibson also departed after the 1970–71 season. Johnson and he were replaced by Hogan's Heroes stars Richard Dawson and Larry Hovis, both of whom had appeared occasionally in the first season. However, the loss of Johnson's many popular characters caused ratings to drop farther. The show celebrated its 100th episode during the 1971–72 season, with Carne, Worley, Johnson, Gibson, Graves, and Tiny Tim all returning for the festivities. John Wayne was also on hand for his first cameo appearance since 1968.

Season 6

For the show's final season (1972–73), Rowan and Martin assumed the executive producer roles from George Schlatter (known on-air as "CFG", which stood for "Crazy Fucking George"), and Ed Friendly. Except for holdovers Dawson, Owens, Buzzi, and only occasional appearances from Tomlin, a new cast was brought in. This final season featured future Match Game panelist Patti Deutsch, folksy singer-comedian Jud Strunk, and ventriloquist act Willie Tyler and Lester. Deutsch, Strunk, and Tyler caught on to the spirit of the show and made valuable contributions. (Deutsch did celebrity impressions — in the presence of the celebrity — and took over Worley's role in "The Farkel Family".) The shows were still amusing, but without the usual roster of regulars, viewers no longer responded as they once had.

These last shows never aired in the edited half-hour rerun syndicated (through Lorimar Productions) to local stations in 1983 and later on Nick at Nite. The cable network Trio started airing the show in its original one-hour form in the early 2000s, but only the pilot and the first 69 episodes (extending to the fourth episode of the 1970–71 season) were included in Trio's package. Two "Best-of" DVD packages are also available; they only contain six episodes each.

Of over three dozen entertainers to join the cast, only Rowan, Martin, Owens, and Buzzi were there from beginning to end. However, Owens was not in the 1967 pilot and Buzzi missed two first-season episodes.

Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn later became noted film stars: Hawn won an Academy Award while still a member of the cast; Tomlin was later nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1975 for Nashville. Hawn and Eileen Brennan co-starred in the 1980 film Private Benjamin, for which both received Academy Award nominations. Henry Gibson later co-starred in the Robert Altman film Nashville and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Ruth Buzzi became a regular on the Sesame Street children's television series and starred in a Canadian-inspired version of Laugh-In called Whatever Turns You On, which itself was the basis for yet another Laugh-In-inspired series, You Can't Do That On Television. Dave Madden, whose trademark was to throw confetti (representing an unspoken impure thought) while keeping a dour expression at the punchline of a joke, played Reuben Kincaid on the television sitcom The Partridge Family. Richard Dawson, who previously had a regular supporting role on the sitcom Hogan's Heroes, went on to success on the game shows Match Game and Family Feud. Larry Hovis, also a regular on Hogan's Heroes, appeared on Laugh-In during the first and the fifth seasons. Teresa Graves parlayed her season on the show into the title role of the police drama Get Christie Love! Flip Wilson took Geraldine and his other characters to his own variety show from 1970 through 1974.

Cast tenures

John Wayne and Tiny Tim helped Laugh-In celebrate its 100th episode in 1971.

Regular guest performers

Series writers

Laugh-In writers included: George Schlatter, Jack Mendelsohn, Lorne Michaels, Phil Hahn, Jim Mulligan, Jack Hanrahan, Gene Farmer, Jim Abell, Bill Richmond, Don Reo, Allan Katz, Jack Wohl, Larry Siegel, John Rappaport, Allan Manings, Jack Margolis, Bob Howard, John Jay Carsey, Richard Goren (also credited as Rowby Greeber and Rowby Goren), Chris Bearde (credited as Chris Beard), Chet Dowling, David Panich, Marc London, Paul Keyes,[2] Dave Cox, Jack Kaplan, Stephen Spears, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Coslough Johnson (Arte Johnson's younger brother), Hart Pomerantz, Barry Took, Digby Wolfe, Jeremy Lloyd.

Musical direction and production numbers

The musical director for Laugh-In was Ian Bernard. He wrote the opening theme music, plus the infamous "What's the news across the nation" number. He also wrote all the musical "play-ons" that introduced comedy sketches like Lilly Tomlin's character, Edith Ann, the little girl who sat in a giant rocking chair, and Arte Johnson's old man who always got hit with a purse. He also appeared in many of the cocktail scenes where he directed the band as they stopped and started between jokes. Composer-lyricist Billy Barnes wrote all of the original musical production numbers in the show. Barnes was the creator of the famous Billy Barnes Revues of the 1950s and 1960s, and composed such popular hits as "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair", recorded by Barbra Streisand and the jazz standard "Something Cool" recorded by June Christy.


The show was recorded at NBC's Burbank facility using two-inch quadruplex videotape. Since computer-controlled online editing had not been invented at the time, post-production video editing of the montage was achieved by the error-prone method of visualizing the recorded track with ferrofluid and cutting it with a razor blade or guillotine cutter and splicing with video tape, in a manner similar to film editing. This had the incidental benefit of ensuring that the master tape would be preserved, since a spliced tape could not be recycled for further use. Laugh-In editor Arthur Schneider won an Emmy Award in 1968 for his pioneering use of the "jump cut" – the unique editing style in which a sudden cut from one shot to another was made without a fade-out.

When the series was restored for airing by the Trio Cable Network in 1996, the aforementioned edits became problematic for the editors, as the adhesive used on the source tape had deteriorated during 20+ years of storage, making many of the visual elements at the edit points unusable. This was corrected in digital re-editing by removing the problematic video at the edit point and then slowing down the video image just before the edit point; time-expanding the slowed-down section long enough to allot enough time to seamlessly reinsert the audio portion from the removed portion of video.

Recurring sketches and characters

Rowan and Martin with Judy Carne in 1967


Frequently recurring Laugh-In sketches included:


The Tasteful Lady entertains Rita Hayworth, 1971

Memorable moments

The first season featured some of the first music videos seen on network TV, with cast members appearing in films set to the music of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Bee Gees, the Temptations, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the First Edition.

The show gave prominence to singer Tiny Tim, a gawky man with long, dark hair, a prominent nose, and a cheap suit. During the "New Talent Time" segment, he sang in falsetto while accompanying himself on a ukulele. Dick Martin often was shown alongside Tiny Tim, reacting to the performance. Future new-talent bits had Martin warily asking Rowan, "You're not gonna bring back Tiny Tim, are you?" Tiny Tim was really Herbert Khaury, a serious scholar of Tin Pan Alley tunes who hit upon this strangely humorous characterization. Due to appearances on the show, he recorded a falsetto version of the 1920s song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" which became a top-40 hit. Tiny Tim was later married on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to Victoria Budinger, who was known as Miss Vicki.

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.[3] According to George Schlatter, the show's creator, "Humphrey later said that not doing it may have cost him the election", and "[Nixon] said the rest of his life that appearing on Laugh-In is what got him elected. And I believe that. And I've had to live with that."[4]


In addition to those already mentioned, the show created numerous catchphrases:

Merchandise tie-ins and spin-offs

A humor magazine tie-in, Laugh-In Magazine, was published for one year (12 issues: October 1968 through October 1969—no issue was published December 1968), and a syndicated newspaper comic strip was drawn by Roy Doty and eventually collected for a paperback reprint.

The Laugh-In trading cards from Topps had a variety of items, such as a card with a caricature of Jo Anne Worley with a large open mouth. With a die-cut hole, the card became interactive; a finger could be inserted through the hole to simulate Worley's tongue. Little doors opened on Joke Wall cards to display punchlines.

On Letters to Laugh-In, a short-lived spin-off daytime show hosted by Gary Owens, cast members read jokes sent in by viewers.

The comedy film The Maltese Bippy featured several actors from the series.

The General Motors Corporation produced a specially modified Pontiac GTO called "The Judge" to capitalize on the phrase's popularity. "The Judge" was available in 1969, 1970 and 1971.

In 1969, Sears, Roebuck and Company produced a 15-minute short, Freeze-In, which starred series regulars Judy Carne and Arte Johnson. Made to capitalize on the popularity of the series, the short was made for Sears salesmen to introduce the new Kenmore freezer campaign. A dancing, bikini-clad Carne provided the opening titles with tattoos on her body.[5]

Between 2003 and 2004, Rhino Entertainment released two Best Of releases of the show, each containing six episodes.

Two LPs of material from the show were released: the first on Epic Records (FXS-15118, 1968); the second, entitled "Laugh-In '69", on Reprise Records (RS 6335, 1969).

Baskin-Robbins marketed a chocolate flavor variant named "Here Comes the Fudge" in tribute to the show's popularity and the courtroom skits.


TV season, ranking, average viewers per episode


In 1977, Schlatter and NBC briefly revived the property as a series of specials – titled simply Laugh-In – with a new cast, including former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner. The standout was a then-unknown Robin Williams, whose starring role on ABC's Mork & Mindy one year later prompted NBC to rerun the specials as a summer series in 1979. Also featured were Wayland and Madame, as well as his other puppet, "Jiffy", former Barney Miller actress June Gable, and Good Times actor Ben Powers. Rowan and Martin, who owned part of the Laugh-In franchise, were not involved in this project. They sued Schlatter for using the format without their permission, and won a judgment of $4.6 million in 1980.

Awards and honors

Emmy Awards

Golden Globe Award

International broadcasts


  1. "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows". April 26, 2002. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  2. "The Comedy Writer That Helped Elect Richard M. Nixon by Kliph Nesteroff". WFMU's Beware of the Blog. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  3. Kolbert, Elizabeth. "Stooping To Conquer" The New Yorker, April 19, 2004.
  4. "Satire and Parody; Sock it to Me?" Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, January 28, 2009.
  5. "Internet Archive: Details: Freeze-In". Retrieved 2008-09-26.
  6. 1967 ratings.
  7. 1968 ratings.
  8. 1969 ratings.
  9. 1970 ratings.
  10. 1971 ratings.
  11. 1972 ratings.
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