"ROWAN AND Martin's Laugh-In" was a tonic for television in the late '60s, a frenetic phenomenon with buckets of water flying as fast as the one-liners. Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn, regulars on the show, became today's comic luminaries. Others, including Arte Johnson, Richard Dawson, Ruth Buzzi and Jo Anne Worley, became sitcom staples. Host/creators Dan Rowan and Dick Martin gave us "Sock it to me," "Ver-r-r-y interesting," "bippy" and Tiny Tim.
Right now, Martin is busy editing six years of "Laugh-In" for syndication. "We're boiling them down to half hours--hour-long shows are difficult to sell unless you're a cop show," Martin says on the phone from his home in Century City, Calif. Lorimar leased the shows and will air them in fall 1983.
"It holds up better than anything on the air today because it's funny, it moves like a freight train," Martin says. "And it's astounding how timely it really is. The problems we doffed our hats to then--politics, pollution, drugs--they're close to home today."
Rowan and Martin began working together while in their twenties and traveled the nightclub comedy circuit for 20 years before their big break. Pipe-smoking Rowan played the urbane straight man to Martin's daffy, leering dimwit. "We would have been together for 30 years this year if we had an act," Martin says, describing their approach as " 'Ivy-Leaguish.' We didn't sing, didn't dance, didn't do impressions. We just developed this wonderful ability to read each other's minds. We never had anything written down. Nobody could write the stuff we did in the nightclubs. There was a lot of Burns and Allen in us.
"We wanted to do the show for years and nobody would listen to us," Martin remembers. Then NBC gave them a shot at a special, which evolved into the six-year smash series that caused the network equal amounts of pride and panic.
Martin thinks "Laugh-In" revolutionized comedy, and did a number on television in the process. "Up until 'Laugh-In,' the day of the long sketches was in," he says. "Dan and I always felt that it was just televised radio and televised vaudeville. Our show was made for the electronic age. It made you watch. You couldn't step out of the room for two minutes to grab something from the fridge--you'd miss something.
"In those days we were quite innovative and risque', and of course now you have to laugh. Oh, good heavens! It's so bland now! The censors couldn't abide the word 'pregnant' then." Martin says the show broke another kind of ground for television. "We were the first to have a live-in censor. We would look up every minute and there he'd be, saying 'You can't do that!' We paved the way for topical television, I'd say. Then the Smothers Brothers came along, and Archie Bunker.
"It was a lot of fun, because nobody but the writers really knew what they were doing or where it would fit in the show. That's how we used Nixon," Martin says, referring to when former President Nixon surprised television audiences by solemnly declaring "Sock it to me" in a cameo appearance. "Paul Keyes, our producer, was a good friend of his, and Nixon was a big fan of the show. In fact, when he was campaigning in Burbank, we greeted him instead of the mayor. It was great for Nixon's image at the time. Then we offered it to Humphrey, and he unwisely turned it down."
Rowan and Martin are now separated by geography, but their names are linked in television history. "Dan is the smartest of all of us," Martin says. "He's living on a converted Dutch coal barge on the rivers and canals of France, with a young lady whom the columnists would call his 'best friend,' sipping wine with his feet in the water."
Martin lives with his wife Dolly "in the same old town, doing some directing, some acting, mostly 'Love Boat.' I was in 'Carbon Copy' with George Segal, too." He says he will direct some episodes for a new Bob Newhart series for CBS and will also direct some segments of a "real cute" NBC series called "Family Ties."
Say good night, Dick.
"Good night, Dick."