Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was a TV sketch comedy show that was broadcast from January 22, 1968, to March 12, 1973. The show was known for its quick edits and one-liners — sort of a new Vaudeville for the Television Age. It was also known for its erudite political satire and cutting-edge humor. It launched the careers of several actors and comedians, but also spawned catch phrases that became part of everyday speech and culture. One of the things that endeared these phrases to the Boomer Generation was that celebrities — ranging from John Wayne and Jack Benny to a candidate for the office of President of the United States — appeared in incongruous cameo spots for their chance to utter these memorable phrases.
While some phrases were adapted from older idioms, others were unique to the times. Yet here we are, 40-plus years past the show’s final broadcast, and boomers across the country will remember every one of them. Were you sitting in the living room and watching Laugh-In when you first heard these phrases spoken?
Sock It To Me
Judy Carne was the first of the Laugh-In cast to speak that famous phrase, arguably the most famous of the Laugh-In phraseology. In fact, she was hired into the Laugh-In cast to be the “Sock It To Me Girl.” The wife of Laugh-In producer George Schlatter suggested the phrase may work into a nice skit after hearing Aretha Franklin sing Respect. That same year (1967), Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels released Sock It To Me, Baby. So the phrase was out there, but now it was given new purpose.
In Laugh-In’s case, “Sock it to me” had a more slapstick connotation than that of the songs; every time Judy Carne said it, she was sure to be hit with something — from a hammer to feathers; splashed with water either from a bucket or rained on from above; dropped through a trap door or even shot out of a cannon.
Later, other cast members said the phrase with similar results, but when guest celebrities would say it, it was often as if it were a dare, asking the question, “Sock it to me?” The most famous of these was Richard Nixon. George Schlatter had sent invitations to both candidates for president in 1968: Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Against the advice of his advisers, Nixon accepted, and the presidential candidate took six takes to say the famous phrase. Humphrey later said that his declining the invitation may have cost him the election.
You Bet Your Sweet Bippy
Dick Martin often said this phrase when asked a question by Dan Rowan. The phrase meant something akin to, “to be sure,” or “of course I’m sure.” The term “bippy” is said to be a slang version of the human buttocks. Mister Boomer recalls kids saying the phrase because they felt it sounded like swearing. Kids found it was off-putting enough when voiced around adults, so they felt mischievously subversive repeating it. Since it came from TV, it was therefore technically acceptable and they wouldn’t be reprimanded.
Do You Want a Walnetto?
Walnettos are chewy caramel candies with walnuts that were first introduced in 1919. It was one of the top 10 best-selling candies through WWII, but faded in the 1960s. Laugh-In put the brand back in the spotlight, and popularity of the candy increased as a result of Arte Johnson’s character — the old man Tyrone — trying to use the phrase as a pick-up line.
Here Come De Judge
Comedian Pigmeat Markham used the phrase in his act for years, but before that it was heard in Vaudeville. When Mr. Markham discovered that Laugh-In was using his catch phrase, he petitioned George Schlatter to bring him on the show as a guest star. Pigmeat Markham did appear on the show and, dressed as a judge fro the ski to follow, said the phrase as a prelude to his own courtroom entrance. Schlatter liked him so much that Markham continued to play the part of “De Judge” for a whole season.
Flip Wilson was one of the cast members who got to shout the phrase, but most boomers will recall Sammy Davis, Jr. strutting across the stage and making the phrase his own. Many boomers repeated Mr. Davis’ dance and cadence in classrooms and playgrounds.
There were many other catch phrases that became famous from the show, including:
• Beautiful downtown Burbank — which was the location of the studio in which the show originated.
• Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls! — a reference to the encyclopedia makers; Mister B’s family got their Funk & Wagnalls one letter book at a time as a bonus from the supermarket.
• “I didn’t know that.” — Dick Martin used this phrase to respond to something that happened or was said in an episode.
• Flying Fickle Finger of Fate — was an ersatz award invented by Laugh-In, and usually bestowed upon government officials or incompetent people. Announcer Gary Owens often repeated the alliteration in his show summary.
• “Ve-e-l-l-l-ly eenteresting.” — Another phrase made famous by a recurring character on the show. In this case, Arte Johnson, dressed as a Nazi soldier and usually hiding behind a plant, observes the strange behavior before him and utters the phrase in his best fake German accent.
• “One ringy-dingy…two ringy-dingies…” — Cast member Lily Tomlin invented her Ernestine character as a telephone operator in 1940s hair and dress. She would say the phrase in a nasal tone while waiting for the person she dialed to pick up the phone.
• “Blow in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere.” — Another catch phrase from Dick Martin. It was his way of adding a non sequitur to what might otherwise be an innocent-sounding statement by Dan Rowan.
Then, every show closed with Dan Rowan saying to Dick Martin, “Say good night, Dick.” Dick Martin would respond, “Good night, Dick.”
Of course, there were many more. The cast was constantly changing as the show launched the careers of new comedians — including Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Goldie Hawn, Flip Wilson, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley and a host of others — while established stars appeared in cameo roles. Only Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Gary Owens and Ruth Buzzi survived the entire run of the show.
How about it, boomers? Do you still find yourself repeating a Laugh-In phrase from time to time?