Look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls. Laugh-In was one of the most successful comedy programs ever on television—and recently, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its last show, about 180 of the original cast and crew, along with some of their friends, converged at Chasen’s, a posh Beverly Hills restaurant, for a reunion. The occasion also marked the beginning of the show’s syndication in reruns to 77 markets around the country—and its new lease on life was toasted with champagne, smoked salmon and fond reminiscences of times gone by. “It just boggles my mind,” said co-host Dick Martin (Dan Rowan, the other half of the team, was unable to attend), “that so many people went through the Laugh-In factory and on to become such big stars.”
In fact, the show—a zany mixture of gags, skits and snappy one-liners—was a launch pad for the likes of Goldie Hawn (another no-show), Lily Tomlin, sportscaster Jayne Kennedy and ex-Playmate Barbi Benton, just to name a few. Others faded from view, although their particular contributions to American television humor live on: Judy Carne (Burt Reynolds’ ex-wife) popularized the phrase “Sock it to me,” Arte Johnson was fond of dressing up like a Nazi and saying, “V-e-r-r-y interesting” and Johnny Brown, the show’s burly mascot, usually got at least one “Here comes de judge” per program.
The nearly 200 guests on the show during its five-year run (1968-’73) were nothing to sneeze at either. Then presidential candidate Richard Nixon weighed in with one memorable “Sock it to me” in 1968, and when the late John Wayne did a guest shot in 1971, he refused to wear glasses for the opening skit. “I just can’t do it,” grumbled the Duke to a director. “Nobody will recognize me.”
For some, the syndication of the show in a shortened half-hour version (the original ran a full 60 minutes) will come as something of a godsend. “I’ve been playing clubs and concerts for the last 10 years,” says ex-cast member Brown, “and people always ask me, ‘Hey, do you think there will ever be another Laugh-In?’ Now, after all these years, I can finally say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Laugh-In is back.’ ” Sock it to us, Johnny.