On 16 September 1968, the television comedy ‘Laugh-In’ provided one of the most memorable moments of the presidential campaign that year.
Laugh-In was a sketch comedy/variety program that landed somewhere between vaudeville and burlesque in it’s content and became ingrained in the public consciousness with the rapid fire delivery of punch lines, puns, and double entendre.
One of the shows most enduring bits was the repetitive request of cast members to ‘Sock it to me!’ after which the person who uttered the line would often be hit with a shower of ping pong balls, have their clothes torn off down to the underwear, or be splashed with a bucket of water.
One TV writer who was a loyal Republican, thought an appearance by Richard Nixon would do much to lighten the image of a politician not known for his sense of humor.
Nixon, who for many was the epitome of ‘square’ middle class values, was the perfect foil for an unexpected, ‘sock it to me’ moment. Despite the objection of some of his campaign aides, Nixon agreed to do the bit, and after a few takes, Nixon, who participated in amateur dramatics in college, managed to hit the right note of surprise in his delivery.
The appearance resonated with the public, which was already weary of a divisive campaign season that included the assassination of candidate Robert Kennedy, riots outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the radical rhetoric of George Wallace. A moment of levity from an unlikely source captured people’s attention.