“PRACTICAL JOKE!”

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It was  Arte Johnson’s birthday a few weeks ago  and this is a blog about him and a story that involves some kinda fun from many years ago.

We had shared a creative relationship as writer and performer for the first year and a half of “LAUGH IN.”

Coslough Johnson Arte’s brother and I were writing partners and part of the 1968 original writers team.

One of our main assignment on the show was crafting short sharp sight gags, skits and one liners using Arte’s brilliant characters. The little German, his crazy Swedish gibberish character, The Russian , the loony Guru and of course “Mister Land Mark” Tyrone the dirty old unrequited sex starved lover of the “violently hand bagged” Ruth Buzzi sitting on the classic park bench.

After ‘Laugh In” in 69/70 I went on to produce the Andy Williams series and of course had Arte as one of the first guests on the new comedy oriented format Andy loved. Later I also had Arte and Joanne come down to Australia and star in an Aussie Comedy Variety Special and we’ve been friends throughout the decades.

One year on a summer hiatus from the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour  the Bearde Family went on a Hawaiian vacation to a very different kind of resort. It was in a remote area of the Big Island and you paid in advance for your exclusive stay. It was a completely inclusive and exclusive experience. You stayed in the resort for the whole time and everything was taken care of  it was like being on a cruise ship on land.  Upon arrival we were told the resort had some special celebrity guests namely Lou Rawls and Arte Johnson and his wife.

That first night I arranged with the staff to dress as a waiter. I put on a false mustache and was able to serve Arte and his wife( the lovely Gisela) a first and second course as a “Jerry Lewis like” clumsy waiter. To their credit they put up with the thumb in the soup and the flat ware dropping routines and my mumbling excuses.

When it was time for dessert I came out without the mustache and asked Arte:   “Do you want your ice cream on a plate on in your lap?”

To this day watching Arte trying to put together the annoying inept waiter on a remote Hawaiian resort being one of the writers on “Laugh In” is a hilariously priceless and indelible imprint in the history of one man’s comedy brain.

I recently upped my relationship with the little dude when we both attended the George Schlatter Tribute at the Saban Theatre.

It was a most hilarious event with clips from the show that were reminders that old style vaudeville is still out there and available for an occasional revival. What “LAUGH IN” was able to do is combine social comment with throwing water on women  in bikinis. This would still work but the water would now have to be thrown on same sex married couples to cover the changing demographic.

I had only been in Hollywood for approximately 20 weeks fresh out of the CBC in Toronto when I found myself in a Tuxedo standing on the stage surrounded by George and my fellow writers with Frank Sinatra on one side and Sally Field on the other and with an Emmy in my hand. Its been all downhill since then…luckily it was a really high hill and its taken its time in happening.

 

 

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