Thursday, September 16, 2010

This day in "Nixonland" history

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in (think sit-in, teach-in, be-in) was a deliberate attempt to harness insurgent new cultural energies for the mainstream. It featured a giant, hairy, falsetto-voiced folksinger named Tiny Tim, a deadpan comic Nazi, a nubile go-go dancer with psychedelic slogans painted on her torso, and more sexual innuendo than you could shake a stick at.

And on Monday, September 16, 1968, it featured Richard Milhous Nixon.

One of Laugh-In's writers was Nixon's old joke-man, Paul Keys. One of their running gags enlisted random celebrities to utter the innuendo-laden non sequitur "Sock it to me."

A hippie girl, drenched by water, answered a telephone call, supposedly from Governor Nelson Rockefeller: "Oh, no, I don't think we could get mr. Nixon to stand still for a 'Sock it to me.'"

The screen was filled with the famous ski-jump-nosed, fifty-five-year-old mug, intoning in cool self-mocking bafflement, "Sock it to me?!"

Paul Keys was sure to nab the tape after they got the take before Nixon's dubious aides got to it first. Their doubts disappeared after the show ran. Humphrey was supposed to be the live wire, the happy warrior, selling the politics of joy. Not going on Laugh-In himself was one of the things Humphrey lamented cost him the election.

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