Dick Martin: A multi-talented funny man

DickmartinSad to learn this evening of the passing of a very funny fellow, Dick Martin, at the age of 86.

Martin was a multihyphenate before the slanguage term was invented. In his long career he worked as a standup comic with longtime partner Dan Rowan (Rowan and Martin were inspired by their partial namesakes, Martin and Lewis), an actor, writer and producer, and later in life, as a very sought-after helmer for shows ranging from “The Bob Newhart Show” to Showtime’s groundbreaking “Brothers” to “Family Ties,” “Sledge Hammer” and “In the Heat of the Night.”

After 1968, of course, Martin’s place in pop culture history was cemented as the co-host and co-creator of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which sought to tame the generation gap with humor for NBC. It worked. “Laugh-In” was the No. 1 show in the country in 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons, and a top 25 show for two more seasons.

Martin had the kind of hound-dog face and a trademark zany-goofy character that just made you smile whenever he was on screen. In addition to all of that directing, in his later years he logged guest shots on everything from “3rd Rock from the Sun” to “Baywatch” to “Diagnosis Murder” to “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.”

Here’s a detailed obit released this evening by the Martin family, and here’s a good piece from the Laughintime AP’s Bob Thomas that puts into perspective the cultural impact that “Laugh-In” had in its heyday (apropos of this Time magazine cover from the era).

I’m very glad to have had the chance to see Martin in person last September as part of the Paley Center for Media’s “Bob Newhart Show” reunion (that event also offered a last chance to see Suzanne Pleshette in her husky, saucy element before her death in January). He told a few good yarns about learning how to be a director by working on the show, and he sounded grateful to Newhart and the long-ago leaders of MTM Prods. (the Camelot of TV production companies) for giving him that chance.

Sock it to me, Dick Martin. If there’s a comedy heaven…then he’s already reconnected with Dan Rowan (who died in 1987) and they’re working up some fresh material for a six-week run at the Sands Hereafter.