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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Best of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 2
Best of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 2
Warner Music // Unrated // February 24, 2004
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

Dan Rowan and Dick Martin had a club act in the sixties.  They were pretty popular and soon began appearing on variety shows.  One thing led to another and the next thing you know they were being asked to create their own show.  The easiest, and safest, thing to do would be to develop a variety show, there were many of them on television and the executives would have found that familiar.  But Rowan and Martin wanted something different, something that was unusual and attention getting.  So they, along with their producers and writers, developed a new form of show; one where nothing was static, everything was moving and psychedelic.  Though they would have reoccurring spots, they wouldn't be in the same place every week, or even appear in each show.  The result was one of the wildest TV shows to be broadcast up to that time, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in.

The first thing that hits you about Laugh-in is that there are an incredible number of jokes in each show.   They come at a rapid-fire pace, one after the other.  Sometimes they will even scroll a joke across the bottom of the screen while the actors are verbally throwing them at you.  It is as if they just had to fit in every joke they possibly could.  Jokes were also painted on the bodies of go-go dancers.  There were jokes of every kind:  One-liners, visual jokes, puns and witticisms, jokes about old people and young people, drugs and politics, and a lot of sexual innuendo.

Laugh-in had a different feel from other shows, both past and present.  It wasn't really a skit show like Saturday Night Live is, thought there were skits.  It wasn't a variety show, though there were guest stars.  For one thing, Laugh-in treated the guests differently than other shows did.  Usually the hosts would bring the guest star out at the beginning of the show and say how much they admired their work, then they'd do a skit together, and the guest would sing.  Not so in this show.  The guest would be treated like another member of the cast.  They would have to fling one liners and hold their own with the rest of the comedians.  

The cast was a very talented group of people too.  The regulars included the Goldie Hawn, Artie Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Lilly Tomlin and JoAnne Worley, among others.  This was a group of comedians that could work off each other.  They might not be great actors, but they could tell a joke and create memorable characters.  

While the show was very creative when it was origianally broadcast, it has not aged as well as some other programs from the period.  Seen today, the jokes are very corny and dated.  Some of them are still funny, and each show has a few genuine laughs, but a lot of the humor was topical and no longer applies.  With so many jokes in each show, there were bound to be some duds, and that ratio seems pretty high when viewed today.  The show would also leave in any on-air mistakes, booms in the shot, people messing up their lines and laughing about it, that sort of thing.  I'm sure that was fresh and funny when it aired, but somebody saying "Oh, it's my line?" just doesn't elicit the guffaws that it once did.  

The shows included with this set are:

Episode 16 from 9/23/68 with Eve Arden and Herb Alpert

Episode 64 from 3/2/70 with Danny Kaye

Episode 52 from 12/1/69 with Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Jill St. John, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Peter Lawford and Englebert Humperdinck

Episode 65 from 3/9/70 with Milton Berle, Buddy Hacket, Mickey Rooney and Edgar Bergen

Episode 54 from 12/15/69 with Greeg Garson and Lorne Green

Episode 87 from 2/8/71 with Dinah Shore and Truman Capote

 After watching all six of these shows, I have to admit that there is a sameness to them.  One program just blends into another.  I can see why Rhino decided to put out best-of collections instead of season sets.  I usually would have a strong preference to getting an entire season in order, but there doesn't really seem to be much point with these shows.

The DVD:


The show is presented with a 2 channel mono mix and there are no subtitles.  The audio quality is not great, but this is show is over 30 years old.  The sound is somewhat distorted and there is cracking on high laughs and such.  There is an annoying light hum in background of some episodes too.  It isn't evident most of the time since the show always has something going on sound wise, but in the brief quiet moments you can tell it's there.

The video quality was acceptable.  The show is old and the picture is soft.  The lines are slightly fuzzy but there is a good amount of detail.  Colors are acceptable.  They seem to have faded just a bit, but the psychedelic feel of the show still shines through.   There were a good amount of digital defects, including a lot of aliasing and some slight color bleed in a few spots.  For an unrestored show, it wasn't bad.  

The Extras:  

Each disc in this set had one  bonus interview:
Disc 1:  Interview with actor Alan Sholes:  A 20-minute talk where he relates how he got on the show, and reminisces about the program.  The editing makes his comments a little confusing, but otherwise he has some interesting anecdotes.  

Disc 2:  Interview with Dick Martin:  Talks about Rowan and Martin's stage act, and how they landed a show.  Relates what happened to him after Laugh-in ended, and how he ended up directing TV shows.

Disc 3:  Interview with Hal Erickson (TV historian and author): 30 minutes.  He talks about how different Laugh-in was from the usual show of the time, and its place in history.  This is an interesting talk, but there was a little bit too much hero worship going on.  He claims that Laugh-in influenced everyone from Jerry Lewis to Saturday Night Live to being responsible for the format of Sesame Street and MTV.  While I will agree that it was an influential show, I think he takes it a bit too far.

Final Thoughts:
I enjoyed watching this set.  It was a fun trip down memory lane, recalling the characters I hadn't seen since this show first aired.  By the end of the set though, I was sated.  After the nostalgia wore off, the jokes became stale and the skits a bit predictable.  This would be a fun set to pull out every once in a while, but I can't see myself watching any of the episodes again in a while.  Avid Rowan and Martin fans will want to by it, but if you have fond memories of this show; you might want to rent it first to see if it still holds up.

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