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Monday, May 26, 2008

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate: Dick Martin, 1922-2008

It's difficult, watching it now, to appreciate just what a watershed television show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" truly was when it premiered back in '68. Viewers today -- ironic to the core -- would mostly groan at the show's cornball antics, go-go dancers, nonstop puns, vaudevillian overtones, Richard Nixon; all of which get rolled into a big ball of nostalgia, easily overlooked and forgotten.

Yet take a look at what came before "Laugh-In," and then what followed it, and you see its importance. "Laugh-In" broke down the rigid formatting of what a television show had to look like. "Laugh-In" wasn't a stage show that just happened to be broadcast -- it utilized innovative camera and editing techniques. In fact it was one of the first places America's teenagers could see something called a "music video," as hot songs of the day ("Incense and Peppermints," anyone?) would play over clips of dancing cast members. It was one of the first to do a fake newscast (Laugh-In Looks At the News), which would be duplicated later by "Saturday Night Live" (Lorne Michaels was actually a "Laugh-In" writer) and "The Daily Show." Yes, there was the now somewhat lame "Sock it to me" bits, with its strained slapstick, and all those corny characters ("Here come de' judge!") but at the time, it was all so fresh and exciting, you can see why it became of the 60s top-rated shows.

Amidst all of this were two guys, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, the straight one and the dumb one, frantically trying to corral their hippy-dippy band of circus freaks. Martin passed away Saturday, at age 86. And even if you can't find much to laugh at with "Laugh-In" -- you jaded hipster, you -- you can at least appreciate Martin's dopey grin, killer timing, sharp ear for social satire, and gosh-darn nice-guy attitude. A true TV pioneer, Martin's contributions to the medium will never be forgotten, even if his pioneering show sometimes is.

"C'mon, Dick, let's go the party..."

-- Adam Reinhard,



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