Remembering “Make Me Laugh”

Although it has faded from public memory for the most part, the syndicated game show “Make Me Laugh” was an enjoyable part of my childhood. It was not on the air for very long. Having made its debut in early 1979, by the spring of 1980 it had vanished. The original version of “Make Me Laugh” premiered in 1958. Revivals in the late ’90s were unsuccessful. For me, it’s the ’70s version that stands out. 

Here’s some background info. Three comedians had the task of making each contestant laugh in 60 seconds. There were three rounds, and if the contestant was able to hold out, they would win $360, quite a bit of money in those days. In the midst of the game, there was a celebrity contestant who played for a member of the audience. If they were able to not laugh at the comedians, the audience member would get a prize, often a washer/dryer combo or something of that nature. This was always my favorite part. Some of the celebrity contestants included Dick Clark, Shirley Hemphill, Bert Convy, Meadowlark Lemon, and John McEnroe. Among the comedians who got their start on “Make Me Laugh” were Gallagher, Garry Shandling, and Franklin Ajaye. They were often funny, other times just plain silly.

For me, the best thing about the show was its host, Bobby Van. A very likable man, with an adorable smile, he was very energetic, warm, and relatable. There was a definite charisma about him. He always seemed to be having a great time, like he was happy to be part of all the fun. During the course “Make Me Laugh”, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite being ill, he continued on with the show. At one point, he wore a wig. By March of 1980, he had become too sick to host the show, so it was canceled. In July of that year, on my Mother’s birthday, Bobby Van passed away at the age of 51.

I was unaware he was sick, so news of his death was terribly shocking. It was very scary, and my brutal introduction to sudden death. This was the first celebrity to die that I really liked, one I felt as if I had a personal connection with. As a nine-year old, I bottled up how I felt on the inside. I was embarrassed for anyone to know how deeply sad I was by his passing. He was, after all, someone I didn’t know personally. That was not a good idea, because as a result, his death haunted me for years. It wasn’t until just last year, on the 30th anniversary of his passing, that I finally came to terms with its effect upon me.

 One way I did that was to watch “Make Me Laugh” all over again for the first time, which I did on YouTube. There are only two clips from the show available, but those two were such of a treat. One of the episodes I remembered vividly. It was like taking a trip in a time machine. The clothes, the music, the hair.. it’s so-ooo much like being a kid in the late ’70s. It was fun to relive that era of my life. It was heartwarming to see Bobby again. I remembered watching the show weeknights. It was a good way to relax after the day. Those comedians would bend over backwards to crack up the contestants. Some of it made me laugh, while the rest made me shake my head in disbelief. From time to time, I watch those clips again. With the large number of views they have, I’m not the only one.

The run of “Make Me Laugh” was brief, but its impact has been long-lasting. It’s like a little gem I keep in a special place.


~ by kmnnz on May 9, 2011.

15 Responses to “Remembering “Make Me Laugh””

  1. The one episode I remember most was the one with McEnroe. Great show.

  2. o bicho…

    […]Remembering “Make Me Laugh” « Kelli's Blog[…]…

  3. I’d love to see Howie Mandel singing the “I am a chip monk” – funniest bit on the show.

    • I don’t remember that bit, but I’ll take your word for it. 🙂

    • Here you go! This is probably a late reply, but I found this on an old 1st gen VHS tape, and I decided it must be pretty rare because several people mention it online, but nobody has uploaded it yet:

      It’s got the first bit with Howie Mandel, then the second bit with Dr. Joyce Brothers. I have most of the entire show, even a commercial.
      I’d give anything to find some more old Make Me Laugh episodes on VHS or DVD-R, they are pretty rare though. I have a few more that I transferred over in XP Mode with my DVD Recorder (same as the clip I uploaded above) but I’m always searching for more.

  4. What a great show “Make Me Laugh” was – and there was something really unique about Bobby Van. He radiated charm and happiness. At the time of his passing, he was married to actress Elaine Joyce, who is now married to the playwright, Neil Simon.

    A nice story about the wedding of Bobby and Elaine’s daughter:

    Bobby Van was also an accomplished actor. Here is a great clip featuring a musical number he performed in a film in 1953. It’s actually even more impressive when you consider that this was all highly choreographed, and captured using long camera shots – meaning it was a huge amount of detailed work, with little room for error. Bobby Van was a truly great talent.

    • Hi Don!

      I’m so glad you took the time to stop by! I really like and appreciate your warm comments. 🙂 Thanks for the link to the story about their daughter’s wedding. I remember when she was little. I have yet to see this film, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to do so in the future. This truly is a magnificent scene, a delight to watch. 🙂

      Thanks again Don, and feel free to stop by anytime!

  5. Can someone direct me to where I could get an archived copy. I was on this show in ’79 or ’80 and would love to get a copy. It is not on either of the 2 that are posted on YouTube!

    • There is a guy on Internet Movie Database who has episodes for sale, at around $50. Look under “Make Me Laugh”, and go to the boards. Hope you find them!

  6. The episode I remember is the one where Gallagher cracks a joke about a contestant wearing either sandals or flip-flops and tells him “Hey man when you when all of the money, you need to go out any buy you a pair of shoes”. The contestant laughed immediately. Also in that same episode was when one of the comedians, (I can’t remember his name) played an Army drill sgt. He had on a helmet, and pretended to be gay. He would give commands in a very feminine voice and he was so funny. Does anyone remember who the comedian was?

  7. My best memory of “Make Me Laugh” comes from Gallagher. I remember this man wouldn’t budge when the first two comics tried to get him to laugh.

    But Gallagher came out in his overalls, with his door stop bowler hat, wearing roller skates, pulling that toy dog with the moving legs, holding a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream with the carton completely torn off and with chocolate all around his mouth….

    Gallagher didn’t say a word…he rolled out and the guy…along with myself…busted out laughing…

    Still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen…wish I could see it again.

    Watched that show every Saturday night.

  8. Hello, I am not sure this will help but my mom was a contestant on this show in 1979. All I know is it was show # 186 series 2. Do you know how I can locate the episode ?

  9. Well, I saw the original black and white series in the 50s. I think it was a short “summer replacement”. In any event it was terrific. I didn’t care for the updated version years later. There’s no arguing with taste in comedy. I still remember one comedian, who would do a pretty poor parody of Shakespeare. It made me laugh! How many comedy bits that you saw only once, about 58 years ago, do you remember?

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