60's humor ... into the 90's

Thu May 29 09:18:46 1997

Michael Kelemen--
Mort Sahl, yes, and Lenny Bruce? I see the television
program, *Laugh-In*, as emblematic of a 60's shift in acceptable,
mainstream humor. It pushed the boundaries in ways that were
picked up by *Saturday Night Live* in the 70's and made possible
comics like Robin Williams.
Goofy, a little more than irreverent, a little more obviously
sexual. . . Remember Nixon appearing on *Laugh-In* during the
presidential campaign (did Humphrey show up, too?)? What was his
line . . . sock it to me? It seemed at the time that a new
territory had opened up when politicians actually showed up to be
the butt of jokes, and turned the event to their advantage. The
frenetic pace of the *Laugh-In* skits were later multipied by a
factor of ten in the acts of Williams. *Laugh-In's* sometimes
cutesy sexual humor (Goldie Hawn)-- but still far beyond the 50's
sitcom canned laughter-- dropped the cutesy and assumed the
ribald in *SNL*.
Political humor was biting in *SNL* . . . harder for
politicians to score points without a corresponding loss for a
caricature that stuck (e.g., Garvey's devastating George Bush
portrait). Practically nothing was off limits; I remember a
nasty skit about Humphrey . . . after he died. *SNL* was
criticized for bad taste and going too far. Charlton Heston was
a prominent critic . . . and then he appeared on the program in
good fun.
Was Carson in the 70's cleaner, less biting than Leno and
Letterman in the 90's, and himself in the 80's? Would DAve Barry
be possible without the 60's? It seems to me that the 60's
opened up--to the mainstream--a comic sensibility that will be
with us for the long haul. There's a kind of
stream-of-consciousness pacing and anything-goes feel to much
90's humor. When an edge is there, it can be razor sharp. And
if the comedy is TOO far out, there is no Ed Sullivan show from
which to be excluded. Can you imagine anything being too much
for SLN or Letterman? Well, maybe, but it's a different sort of
arena out there in tv land.
Tom Denton