Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thanks for the Poems, Henry

The Eyelash
"The eyelash is a friend to man.
It lives to serve the eye.
It fights the dirt and dust and grime,
And keeps the eyeball dry.
Flick, flick. Flick, flick.
It's busy as a bee.
Flick, flick. Flick, flick.
It's helpin' you and me."

Henry Gibson

Back in the day, a real fellow named Jack Handey wrote for "Saturday Night Live." One of his contributions to the show was his "Deep Thoughts" segment. They weren't poems — more like one–liners.

I guess Jack Handey was the natural comedic descendant of Henry Gibson, whose poems graced Rowan and Martin's "Laugh–In" in the late 1960s. Gibson died Monday at the age of 73.

What one remembers from "Laugh–In" depends, I guess, on how old one was when it was on the air.

Folks who were adults at the time remember when Richard Nixon came on the show and said, "Sock it to me?"

Others — probably the adolescent boys of that time — remember Goldie Hawn dancing in a bikini.

I remember Henry Gibson, dressed in the "mod" clothing of the day and holding an enormous artificial flower, reciting an original poem. He typically prefaced his appearance with a deadpan statement — "A poem ... by Henry Gibson:"
Dogs Are Better Than Ants
"Dogs are better than ants
Because you don't have to bend so far to pet them
In addition, they are sturdy old muzzlers
Who fetch us our slippers, papers, and twig chunks
Twig chunks
But most of all, they stay out of jelly jars and
Never go squish if you happen to step on them."

Gibson also had a memorable regular bit in a segment called the "Cocktail Party." He was typically shown dressed like a priest, sipping tea. At some point, he would set down his teacup, utter a one–liner and go back to sipping tea.

He was somewhat unremarkable physically, a bit shorter than most men. As a result, he sort of got lost or confused in some folks' memory banks. After news of his death started to get around, I saw a reference to his passing on Facebook. Someone responded to the news with this comment: "Very interesting."

That was the catchphrase used by Arte Johnson, one of Gibson's "Laugh–In" castmates who typically dressed like a German soldier and smoked a cigarette while he delivered it. Johnson and Gibson shared some physical characteristics, but they definitely were different people.

The humor on "Laugh–In" probably seems dated now, maybe even silly. But it played an important role in the evolution of American comedy from the truly silly and often mundane comedy that came before to the edgier, push–the–envelope style we've seen since.

Henry Gibson made a significant contribution. I'm sorry to see him go.

Thanks for the poems, Henry.