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Rapid fire jokes fly on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

Rapid fire jokes fly on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In

March, 1968: “Laugh-In’s” laugh makers perch precariously behind the Joke Wall waiting for their turns to zing in some one-liners. It’s the regular closing feature of the new NBC-TV show, which has opened up a fresh bag of comedy for viewers Monday nights.

This photo by staff photographer Judd Gunderson accompaned Aleene MacMinn’s article on the new hit comedy show in the March 17, 1968, Los Angeles Times’ Sunday Calendar section.

Aleene MacMinn wrote:

SOMEWHERE IN BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN BURBANK – “And now folks, it’s sock it to me time!”

“Sock It to Me?”

“Eartha Kitt … call your draft board.”

“If Queen Elizabeth married Steve McQueen, she’d be Queen McQueen.”

“Verrr-ry in-ter-es-ting.”

“The Republicans have have a good chance this year, but they’ll probably spoil it by nominating somebody.”

“My daughter says that ever since the Supreme Court outlawed prayer in schools, the convent just isn’t the same.”

On and on come the funnies each Monday night, tumbling pell-mell out of a TV cornucopia known as “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” “Laugh-In,” on NBC, is sort of a TV funny farm where gags fly faster than machine-gun fire, and if some of the shots are duds, no matter. There’ll be another barrage along in a second.

In fact, some “Laugh-In” viewers complain that the jokes come too fast. You miss two jokes while you’re sill laughing at the last one. But speed and a frenetic pace are what producer George Schlatter wants.

“Go for the joke,” Schlatter instructs his writers. “Don’t be usual. Don’t be ordinary. Take a 20-second joke and cut it down to five seconds.”

“Sure there’s more than anyone can absorb in an hour,” admits Schlatter, “but today people – especially kids – can assimilate faster. The casual viewer expects more of a show than the big production numbers of 15 years ago. …

“With this show, we’re knocking down the walls that have been hemming us in, freeing ourselves, blowing our minds. ….

The editing of the program alone is a monumental job, since there are so many cuts and bits and pieces of crazy business inserted into each show. “We use the same editing technique as they use in motion pictures,” explained tape editor Art Schneider.

“In the first nine shows there were 4,000 pieces of tape. We average 400 pieces and make 200-250 cuts per show. For a regular show, there would only be 20-30 cuts.” …

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In lasted 140 episodes over six seasons.

March 1968: Hosts Dan Rowan, left, and Dick Martin view antics of two “Laugh-In” cast members in front of the Joke Wall, a regular feature on the television show. Credit: Judd Gunderson / Los Angeles Times

March 1968: Writers for “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” include, from left: Digby Wolfe, producer George Schlatter, Jack Hanrahan, behind Schlatter, Paul Keyes, Marc London, secretary Susan Silver, David Panich and Allan Manings. Credit: Mary Frampton/Los Angeles Times.

These three photos accompanied MacMinn’s article in the March 17, 1968, Los Angeles Times.

In a PBS interview on YouTube, comedians Ruth Buzzi and Jo Anne Worley talk about the Joke Wall.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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