Editor’s note: Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In garnered many plaudits during a storied run on American prime-time
TV in a tumultuous epoch. The show ranked No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings for its first two seasons in 1968-69
and 1969-70. The collaged barrage of humor, which began as a one-shot special in September 1967, also won
Emmy Awards for Outstanding Musical or Variety Series in 1968 and 1969, plus other accolades, before signing off in May 1973.
Amid sit-ins, love-ins, and teach-ins, the NBC network presented a laugh-in, according to the Museum of
Broadcast Communications’ website. Cohosted by the nightclub comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin,
Laugh-In applied burlesque and vaudeville to psychedelia and mod over a fast-paced hour. The antics, fusing the
time-honored and the cutting edge, featured one-liners, non sequiturs, double-entendres, sight gags, slapstick,
pratfalls, blackout sketches, wacky graphics, wry commentary, fake news (of the past, present and future), a
cocktail party serving quips, a joke wall out of which the cast popped to crack wise, the Flying Fickle Finger of
Fate Award for unworthy accomplishments of the day, and bikini-clad dancers whose flesh was painted with slogans. The parade of caricatures from the ensemble included Arte Johnson’s old letch, Henry Gibson’s flower-pow-er poet, and Ruth Buzzi’s pocketbook-flailing spinster. Other up-and-comers such as performers Goldie Hawn and
Lily Tomlin and writer/impresarios Lorne Michaels and Chris Bearde sharpened their skills as company members.
Marquee entertainers, top athletes, and public figures delivered cameos.
Laugh-In’s catch phrases entered the country’s lexicon, for instance, “Sock it to me!” and the title of this article.
Reaching 50 million viewers weekly at the height of its popularity, Laugh-In captured “the zeitgeist of the era”
and “transformed television” in the process, summarized PBS about its 2011 retrospective on the “revolutionary”
show. The hyperactive happening “redefined what could be done on television,” stated a 2008 New York Times
obituary for Martin, and “made conventional television variety programs seem instantly passé and the sitcom
brand of humor seem too meek for the times.”
George Schlatter co-created Laugh-In and was an executive producer for every season but the last. In what fol-
lows, he reminisces about the trailblazing show, which in June came in at No. 89 on the Writers Guild of Ameri-
ca’s list of the 101 best-written TV series.
Arte Johnson poses
as Wolfgang, the
Goldie Hawn mugs for
the camera as a maid.
“One ringy-dingy,” Lily Tomlin’s
Ernestine, the telephone operator,
declares when placing a call.