“LAUGHS CONT…”

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FOURTH EPISODE  in a young writer’s take on working on America’s break out comedy masterpiece “LAUGH IN” .

It was 1968 and I’d just been hired to join the writing staff for the first season of the show. I had to move my ex patriot Aussie ass from Toronto where I had lived and worked for 5 years to Hollywood. I had to leave the family behind for a few months as nobody knew if the show would be a hit or a miss. I rented an apartment right there in downtown Hollywood behind Grumman’s Chinese Theater , what did I know? It was 10 minutes from Burbank if you could get through the hookers and the homeless.

On my first work day I drove my newly acquired used Beetle to the “Laugh In” offices with much trepidation to the “meet and greet” with the writing staff. What would be the reception to this usurper from the cold North. The usurper who’s agent had negotiated a killer deal and a writing credit that was not too shabby for an unknown person from the boondocks.

There were the assembled troops!

George Schlatter and his partner Ed Friendly and his producer and head writer the smiling Nixon speech writer Paul Keyes.

The writing staff consisted of old guys, young guys and weird guys. There were several writing teams and I was partnered with a tiny man who resembled a cute garden gnome.His name was Coslough Johnson and I found out he was the brother of one of the new stars of “LAUGH IN’ namely Arte Johnson.

Coz and Chris were a match made in heaven and our basic assignment was Arte’s material and sight gags.

Paul Keyes and the senior writers on that first day immediately started to test my mettle. I remember Paul saying to the assembled “gaggle of gagsters”

“We need Sophia Loren jokes so let’s start hearing them?”  He then looked directly at me and said:

“Got any Chris?”  There was silence ..

“I left those at home…but I do have one about being brain-dead and shitting my pants.”

The ice was broken.

We worked out of a motel a block from the main office. There were 13 original writers including guys from the right of center and the left of center.

George was like the Genghis Khan of a brand new comedy format. He divided up the writers into a series of the “organized creative pods of his mind”. He was the best audience for a joke and also the worst critic if one laid an egg. I was always waiting for him to come across the desk at me.

When Coslough and I had lunch with Arte for the first time I realized this little mischievous dude was comedy manna from heaven. Arte was a walking talking Euro style comedic actor. He was so very pliable and willing to put his well honed characters to work on all the manic stuff Coz and I could come up with. He had total trust in the two of us.

One day in our motel room we wrote this vignette.

UP ON PARK BENCH

SITTING AT THE BENCH IS AN OLD LADY WEARING A HAIR NET.

A DIRTY OLD MAN WITH A CANE APPROACHES MUMBLING. HE SITS NEXT TO THE OLD LADY ..SHE MOVES DOWN THE BENCH HE FOLLOWS HER MAKING SUGGESTIVE NOISES.

DIRTY OLD MAN: Can I interest you in some 16 mill film?

OLD LADY HITS HIM ON THE HEAD WITH HER PURSE

DIRTY OLD MAN: Can I interest you in some French postcards?

OLD LADY HITS HIM ON THE HEAD REPEATEDLY

DIRTY OLD MAN: Can I interest you in a softer purse?

SHE SMASHES HIM ON THE HEAD AGAIN AND AGAIN. HE SLOWLY FALLS DOWN DEAD.

FADE.

That classic runner lasted for the entire length of the Laugh In’ series..

Working on “Laugh In ” was the most fun any writer of comedy could ever hope for and 13 weeks later the fun we all had coming together in humor… and in the camaraderie of a good joke… paid off big time.

How could anything be more magical and impossible to believe that in that short a time my journey into the rest of my life would start standing on the stage next to all my fellow writers and Frank Sinatra accepting an Emmy?

Really?

Yeah…no shit!

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