'Comedy Tonight' was a 1970 summer-replacement comedy/variety series that tried to be a hip version of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In". The only problem with this idea was that "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" was doing quite nicely itself in 1970, and already *was* hip. Whereas "Laugh-In" offered lightning-fast blackout comedy skits between elaborately choreographed production numbers, "Comedy Tonight" offered slow skits and stand-up comedy turns between slow musical numbers with no choreography at all.
At the beginning of each episode of 'Comedy Tonight', the cast would stand stock-still like a clump of plinths on a bare stage, singing the title song (by Sondheim) ... but, in between verses, the show would confusingly cut to a skit, then cut back to the song, and so forth, taking it in turns.
After the audience got sea-sick, Robert Klein (nominally the show's compere and star) would offer one of his stand-up routines, such as his memories of his trip to the dentist or his deconstruction of an old 'Our Gang' movie short.
The musical numbers (NOT by Sondheim!) written for 'Comedy Tonight' were vastly inferior to those on "Laugh-In". Barbara Cason, a chanteuse with a distressing tendency to pop her eyes, showed up in a cocktail dress -- with the lower half of her body out of frame -- to warble 'August in Anchorage', a song that was obviously inspired by 'April in Paris' but couldn't quite decide whether it wanted to be parody, pastiche or flat-out imitation. At the end of this unfunny song, Cason walked away to reveal that she was wearing snowshoes. This was forty years after Beatrice Lillie did a better version of this gag (with roller skates), and it wasn't very funny when Beatrice Lillie did it.
When I saw videotapes of 'Comedy Tonight' in London in 1972, the real surprise of this series for me was Peter Boyle, singing quite impressively and demonstrating his superb comedic ability. In one skit, Boyle played an actor auditioning for a musical. He keeps showing up and singing the opening bars of "I Could Have Danced All Night" (the same way every time), only to be told to leave. Every time Boyle comes back, he's wearing a different disguise ... but always with his bald pate exposed. Finally he shows up in a toupee, sings the same opening bars the same way, to be told by the casting director: 'I think we can use you.' 'You mean ME?' asks Boyle, peeling off his toupee ... and the casting director promptly rejects him again. I'm not describing it well, but Boyle was hilarious.
All of the repertory company on 'Comedy Tonight' were at least marginally talented except for Marty Barris, a grossly unfunny American imitation of English comedian Frankie Howerd. All of Barris's skits had the same stupid punchline, with Barris wreaking unfunny havoc and then (with hand to cheek, like Frankie Howerd) intoning his catchphrase: 'Ooh, am I gonna get yelled at!' Ha bloody ha.
Jerry Lacy, one of the regulars on this brief series, looked and sounded amazingly like Humphrey Bogart. Many of the 'Comedy Tonight' skits were spoofs of old movies, so I couldn't understand why the scripters of this series didn't write a Bogart skit as a vehicle for Lacy. Years later, I learnt that Lacy had already been typecast as a Bogart lookalike, and so he was turning down trenchcoat roles. Sorry, Mr Lacy.
'Comedy Tonight' would have been funnier if it had been a bit less pleased with its own hipness, and if it had been more visual ... especially with choreography during the songs. You know there's something wrong with a variety series when the most visual element is Robert Klein's range of facial expressions during his dentist routine.
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