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Did Nixon’s ‘Laugh-In’ Cameo Help Him Win the 1968 Election?

May 16, 2018 in History

By Greg Daugherty

Comedians Dan Rowan, left, and Dick Martin, hosts of 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' with then-Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon during a rally in Burbank, California, October 1968. (Credit: AP Photo)

Whatever else he may have been, Richard M. Nixon wasn’t generally known as a comedian. So many American TV viewers were surprised 50 years ago to see the Republican presidential nominee pop up on the hit comedy show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

The date was September 16, 1968, less than a month after the turbulent riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and two months before the November elections. Nixon’s appearance was brief, about five seconds in all, but memorable. Like a long list of Laugh-In guests, he looked straight into the camera and delivered one of the show’s trademark phrases, “Sock it to me!” Even after a reported six takes, it sounded more like “Sock it to me?”—as if Nixon himself couldn’t believe he was saying it.

Nixon, who famously distrusted the media, chose his TV appearances carefully. According to the Associated Press, he hadn’t been on either “Face the Nation” or “Meet the Press” in two years. His aides reportedly advised against appearing on “Laugh-In,” too, given its liberal attitudes toward subjects like sex, recreational drug use and the war in Vietnam.

But Nixon went on anyway, talked into it by Paul Keyes, a “Laugh-In” writer who happened to be a close friend. Keyes thought the cameo would soften Nixon’s humorless image and win him votes in what was promising to be a close election. Keyes might also have mentioned that “Laugh-In” was the most-watched show on TV, reaching close to a third of U.S. households.

Even then, Nixon didn’t drop his guard. Offered a different “Laugh-In” line, “You bet your sweet bippy,” he rejected it, concerned that “bippy” might mean something naughty. His retinue of handlers also made sure that he didn’t appear as pale and sweaty as he had in his disastrous 1960 TV debate with John F. Kennedy. They posed him in a dignified gray-blue suit against a plain brown backdrop—not one of the colorful mod set designs the show was known for. Unlike “Laugh-In” cast members and other guest stars who delivered the line, Nixon wasn’t doused by water, dropped through a trap door, bombarded with marshmallows or subjected to any additional indignities—much as some in the audience might have enjoyed it.

“Laugh-In” producers offered Nixon’s Democratic opponent, Hubert H. Humphrey, equal time on their show, but Humphrey declined, supposedly considering it undignified. He did, however, appear on the Dick Clark music …read more


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