Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete First Season DVD Review: Highly Recommended for the Comedy Fan

After previously releasing the Complete Series in June, Time Life will be releasing Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In as Complete Season sets. The First Season, now available, was only 14 episodes, airing between January 22 and April 22, 1968, and is spread across four DVDs.

Disc 1 has all the Bonus Features. They are the Laugh-In Pilot Episode; a George Schlatter Interview (41 min) where the co-creator/producer discusses the show; 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion Highlights (15 min), which is a Q&A, although not clear who the people asking the questions are, with the cast in 1993; and Laugh-In Bloopers (24 min), black and white footage with poor audio.

Normally, I’d dig into the main item first, but decided to start with the pilot episode to see where it all began. Airing on Sept. 9,1967, the pilot was a special that was so successful NBC ordered a series. The show’s format, an anarchic twist on the variety show, was well established at the onset with humor that pushed the era’s boundaries and seemed to appeal to a younger, hipper audience with its sex and drug references. The program featured sketches that offered variations on gags and outlandish scenes filmed on location. The humor of the Marx Brothers and Ernie Kovacs and the editing techniques the French New Wave are clear influences.

The hosts, the comedy team of straight man Dan Rowan and dummy Dick Martin, opened with funny banter and then escorted viewers to “The Party” where the cast and guest stars fired off a number of jokes. Featured players in the series Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Henry Gibson, Larry Hovis, Arte Johnson, and Jo Anne Worley appeared in the pilot. Two classic recurring bits debuted in the special: Carne danced with words painted on her body and Henry Gibson read a poem. There was also “News from the Future”, which would be expanded to include past and present, allowing for more options for jokes.

When Laugh-In came back as a series, signature additions were made with announcer Gary Owens, cast member Goldie Hawn, and the Joke Wall finale, where the cast popped out of doors to fire off jokes, similar to “The Party”, and act silly. Over the 14 episodes, there is an impressive collection of well-known guest stars. Some, like Flip Wilson and Barbara Feldon, interact with the cast. Others, like John Wayne and Johnny Carson, demonstrating how quickly the show became a big deal, pop up in unannounced cameos delivering funny lines or reactions. The appearances were shot in one session and then cut into multiple episodes. Laugh-In also had on musical acts this season, such as First Edition, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Temptations, and the Bee Gees.

While the first season has a late-’60s sensibility and some of the references might slip by modern viewers, Laugh-In remains fresh and delivers a lot of laughs. Highly recommended for the comedy fan. The set comes with a disclaimer about the quality about the source material. Most of it is fine, but the audio for the episodes from April 1, 8, and 22 is sub par.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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