A thought-provoking article about the old US sitcom Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in, which seems to have had hidden lgbt depths! Over to Jeff Baker to explain more:
“It’s a Coo-Coo, Bet-Your-Bippy, Sock-It-To-Me, Gayer-Than-You-Think Laugh-In World.”
“Sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me…”—-Laugh-In
You can’t look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls but the legendary comedy show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” was probably a lot Gayer than you would think for a show that aired in the Sixties.
The show, which aired from 1968 to 1973 was a fast-paced series of blackout sketches, topical one-liners and physical shtick, augmented by guest stars from Sammy Davis Jr. to Orson Welles and cameos from everyone from Gore Vidal to Richard Nixon (uttering the series’ catch phrase “Sock it to ME?!?”) And regular features like the Laugh-In News, the Farkle Family and the Party.
And they managed to squeeze in more than a handful of Gay references into the mix.
Start with the cast: At least one of the regulars was openly Gay, Lilly Tomlin was an out Lesbian whose partner (professionally and in life) Jane Wagner (they married in 2013) wrote her album featuring her Laugh-In character, five-year-old Edith Ann, even though references to their relationship were excised from a Time Magazine cover story on Tomlin in the 70s.
Alan Sues never officially came out but was survived by his “partner” and he was typed in playing campy, flamboyant roles on “Laugh-In,” including a drag version of Jo Anne Worley. One of his characters is extremely notable.
“Big Al,” the sportscaster played by Sues is flamboyant without being “swishy” but he loves the bell he rings for attention. (“Love that tinkle!”) His may be the first portrayal of a Gay sports-related figure who wasn’t suicidal. Also in a Western sketch, cowboy Sues ambles up to the bar of a Western saloon and orders “a frozen daiquiri.” Sues later played a flamboyant Peter Pan in a series of peanut butter commercials, but lamented that he was typed in comedy as he was adept at serious roles, especially on stage. One of his serious roles is in the anything-but-funny “Twilight Zone” episode “Masks.”
Gays and “The Gay Liberation Movement” were occasionally referenced on “Laugh-In,” not always for a cheap laugh but for satire, especially in the news segment. There are several gags where a man turns out to be married to another man! And there are a lot of jokes about England’s “Queen.” (When the QEII docked in San Francisco, their line was “It was the second biggest Queen” in the city.) But the show could go for the cheap laugh. In the first episode after the first performance of Tiny Tim, Dan Rowan says: “It kept him out of the service,” and Dick Martin quips “I bet the Draft Board burned HIS Draft card!” (Note: from all I know, Tiny Tim was straight!)
“Laugh-In” was a product of its time; not just the liberated Sixties but the stodgy era of network TV and cheap-shot nightclub jokes. The show’s major flaw was too many fat jokes and short jokes. But the show could be forward-thinking and ahead of its time.
In the sixties and early seventies, times for Gays were changing. And “Laugh-In” was ahead of the curve.
You can bet your bippy on that!