Dick Martin: Comedian and host of 'Laugh-In'

The comedian Dick Martin will be best remembered for the revolutionary comedy show he hosted and co-scripted with his partner Dan Rowan, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, which was a prime attraction on BBC2 on Sunday nights for three years (1968-71), and ran on NBC in the United States for nearly six.

An overnight sensation, it broke barriers with its mix of zany, off-beat satire, surrealism and slapstick in stark contrast to the pattern of songs and sketches followed by most light entertainment shows. It made stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin – establishing Hawn as the ultimate dizzy blonde constantly fluffing her lines, and showcasing Tomlin's nasal switchboard operator, Ermintrude ("Is this the party to whom I am speaking?"). Martin and Rowan themselves bore some resemblance to the team of Burns and Allen, with debonair straight-man Rowan trying to cope with Martin's increasingly convoluted string of misunderstandings, while the mix of topical satire and surrealism owed a debt to the vaudeville team of Olsen and Johnson and such British influences as The Goon Show and That Was The Week That Was.

Laugh-In, as it became known, crystallised these influences into a fast-paced free-wheeling show that spawned an amazing number of catch-phrases and farcical "shtick" for its large cast. These included the British actress Judy Carne's "Sock it to me", which usually led to her being drenched by a bucket of water, Arte Johnson's German soldier peering out from behind a potted palm and murmuring "Verrry interesting", Martin's "You bet your bippy", the frequent reminder that the show was coming from "beautiful downtown Burbank", and the "joke wall" set full of windows through which cast members would appear to deliver one-liners.

Dick Martin, who was born in Michigan in 1922, grew up with a love of comedy, and wrote radio scripts in the Forties, notably as a staff writer on the popular show Duffy's Tavern. His early performing credits include a bit part in Father's Little Dividend (1951) with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor.

He met Dan Rowan late in 1951, shortly after seeing the double act of Martin and Lewis and deciding "it looked like a lot of fun". A few weeks later the double act of Rowan and Martin was born, and the team played night-clubs. Their career was given a boost after they performed as the opening act for Nat "King" Cole at a club at Lake Tahoe. Cole kept them on for a worldwide tour ending, after which they were given a four-week engagement in Las Vegas.

Though their names were now known enough for them to star in a low-budget western spoof, Once Upon a Horse (1958), they were still an "opening act", and from 1962 to 1964 Martin alone had a recurring television role in The Lucy Show. The team made frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Perry Como Show, and in 1966 they were hired by NBC when Dean Martin asked them to be hosts of The Dean Martin Summer Show. Their success prompted NBC to offer them their own show, the duo replying that they had "something a little different" in mind.

The first Laugh-In special was transmitted in September 1967 and, though the network was not happy with it, critical response was so positive that it was given a 13-week run. Slotted opposite two of the country's biggest television successes, Gunsmoke and The Lucy Show, it was not predicted to survive, but by the eighth show it was the number one programme in the US. As with The Morecambe and Wise Show in the UK, celebrities were happy to make cameo appearances, including the presidential candidate Richard Nixon, solemnly declaring, "Sock it to me". Among the show's writers were several British talents, including Barry Took, Digby Wolfe and Jeremy Lloyd. By the time it ended in 1973, 144 editions of Laugh-In had been transmitted.

Comedy teams often found the transition to the big screen difficult to bring off, and Rowan and Martin's second film together, The Maltese Bippy (1969), was a disastrous spoof of horror movies. After Dan Rowan retired to live in France, Martin acted in films and television, and had a notable career as a television director on such series as The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78).

Tom Vallance

Thomas Richard Martin, comedian and director: born Battle Creek, Michigan 30 January 1922; married 1957 Peggy Connelly (two sons; marriage dissolved), 1971, 1978 Dolly Read (first marriage dissolved 1975); died Santa Monica 24 May 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
Life and Style
tech
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'