Comedy and television have always fit together like hand and glove. Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny and Lucille Ball pioneered the role of the television comedian in the 1950s. The 1960s provided even more opportunities for comedians to find a niche with the television audience. Talk shows, variety shows, and comedy TV series made stars out of a number of comedians in the 60s.
"The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson"
Johnny Carson should perhaps stand at the top of the list of 1960s comedians for a couple of reasons. First, he practically created the mold for the comedic talk show host that stands in place today -- opening monologue, comedic skits, and comedic repartee with the guests. The second reason that Carson should top the list is that “The Tonight Show” introduced so many aspiring comedians to the American public.
Television Series Comedians
Dick Van Dyke was one of the most popular television comedians of the ‘60s. He starred in “The “Dick Van Dyke Show.” The show hit the airwaves in 1961 and remained on the air till 1966. It also introduced Mary Tyler Moore to the American public. The show centered on Van Dyke’s character Robert Petrie who was a comedy writer for a television show.
Don Knotts was one of television’s most prolific and hardest working television comedians. He appeared in 25 television series during his career. He is best known for his role as the bumbling deputy sheriff Barney Fife on the “The Andy Griffith Show” that aired from 1961 to 1967. He won five Emmys for his work on the show. Knotts left the show in 1965 to pursue a movie career.
TV Variety Shows
“The Red Skelton Show” ran from 1951 to 1971. The show was expanded to a full hour in 1962 and dubbed “The Red Skelton Hour.” The format of the show centered on an opening monologue and a colorful cast of Skelton characters including “Freddie the Freeloader” and “Clem Kadiddlehopper.” The show received three Emmy Awards including “best comedy writing,” “best comedian” and best comedy show.”
Carol Burnett was a regular cast member on “The Garry Moore Show” for three years from 1959 to 1962. She appeared on a number of television comedies during the ‘60s including “Get Smart” and “Gomer Pyle USMC.” Her own TV variety show, “The Carol Burnett Show,” debuted on September 11, 1967 on CBS. The show featured a comedy troupe consisting of Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vickie Lawrence, and Tim Conway. “The Carol Burnett Show” remained on the air until March 29, 1978.
Standup Comedians on Television
Don Rickles was one of the most successful and busiest comedians in the ‘60s. His specialized style of comedy was over-the-top insult humor poking fun at ethnicity, personality quirks, weight issues and anything else that would get a laugh. He appeared on numerous television shows in the ‘60s including “Get Smart” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” He was also a popular guest on “The Tonight Show” where he appeared over 100 times.
Moms Mabley is one of the first important African American female comedians. She began working as a comedian in the 1920s on the Black Vaudeville stage. She became a major comedy star in the ‘60s appearing on a number of TV variety shows including “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour She would sneak in insightful comments about racial bigotry into her act.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.