Say Goodnight, Dick

I have a real affection for comedy duos. Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello always make me laugh. Wayne & Shuster were the dudes in Canada, while the Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were a stitch in England. Stiller & Meara and Nichols and May, took things in a smart, war between the sexes direction. In Etobicoke, of course, it was Bullock & Brioux, but no sense bringing the Civil War into this.
As a youngster, growing up watching TV in the ’60s and ‘7os, the top comedy duos were pretty easy to name: The Smothers Brothers and Rowan & Martin.
The Smothers are still with us and you could write a book about their impact and influence, not just on comedy but on society. In fact, my pal David Bianculli is doing just that. Read about his Smothers book deal here at his terrific site, TV Worth Watching.
Rowan & Martin weren’t as political or as provocative as the Smothers Brothers but they sure were popular. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was the No. 1 show two seasons in a row as the ’70s began, launching several long-lasting comedy careers with Lily Tomlin, Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, Alan Sues, Jo-Anne Worley, Teresa Graves and Henry Gibson becoming household names.
Dick Martin, the loopier half of the team (Ray Richmond in The Hollywood Reporter described him as an “adorable dork”), always looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. He was adept at playing dumb, with well-tanned Dan Rowan serving as the laid-back, more sophisticated straight man of the team. They were almost peripheral to the zany sketch series, standing in front of joke walls and linking dozens of black out skits with Dick’s little “I didn’t know that?” or “Sock it to me” moments. “It was a well-structured, non-structured show,” Martin was quoted once as saying. “I never thought of us as hosts. We were two guys walking through a mélange of madness.”
While that was true the duo had great timing and chemistry and oodles of charm. They looked like they liked each other, they were fun to watch, and you can look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.
Martin, who died Saturday at 86, went on to have a second career as a TV comedy director, working everything from The Bob Newhart Show to Family Ties.
His passing reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago from George Schlatter (left with Martin in 2003), the producer of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Schlatter was prowling around Hollywood producer Bob Evans fabled retreat at a press tour party a few years ago when I thanked him for all the laughs back in the day. Schlatter, who has an aura of Orson Welles about him, talked about how NBC was always trying to revive the show, which went off the air in 1973. The young punks running the studios today wouldn’t know a Laugh-In from a Show of Shows was the gist of his rant. He once took a meeting with a couple of NBC suits, who told him they would green light a revival of the show, but only if it was fronted again by both Rowan and Martin. Anything less would be a deal breaker, they told the producer. That’s not going to be easy to arrange, said Schlatter, who informed the programmers that Rowan had passed away in 1987.
Now both comedians have passed away to the big bippy in the sky. Still, the way things are going at NBC, don’t be surprised it they don’t somehow wind up on some part of NBC’s new 52-week schedule. The can’t be any stiffer than the American Gladiators.
Here’s a YouTube clip of Rowan & Martin in action:

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