I’m not sure that I really loved the TV show Hee Haw when I was a kid, or whether I just remember it that way through a nostalgic haze. Either way, it was definitely a Saturday night staple here in my Nashville home.
One thing I was surprised to find out when I was looking up information on the show was that it was initially inspired – especially in it’s quick cutting from joke to joke – by the then-popular show Laugh In. When I read that, it made perfect sense, but it was a connection that I never would have guessed. I was also surprised to find out that it was initially designed to be a Summer replacement series for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show – which I’m guessing would be most of you out there – Hee Haw is probably best described as a cornpone comedy/variety show. Set (as much as it can be said to be set anywhere) in fictional Kornfield Kounty, it was pretty much just an excuse to share a whole lot of backwoods/hillbilly jokes and as a showcase for both classic and up-and-coming country music stars. I suppose in a way you could also compare it to Saturday Night Live, except that instead of sketch comedy it focused on piling in as many one liners as possible in one show.
That’s not to say that it didn’t have recurring buts and settings, however. It actually had quite a few, including KORN News, Lulu’s Truck Stop, Stringbean’s Letter From Home, The Haystack, “Hee Haw Salutes…”, The Joke Fence, The Empty Arms Hotel, “Hey Grandpa! What’s for supper?”, The Cornfield, and many, many, many more. And that’s not to mention the most popular segments,
“PFFT! You Were Gone!”
and “Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me”
Much like Laugh-In was hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin – it’s official on-screen title is Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – Hee Haw was hosted by Roy Clark and Buck Owens. But also like its predecessor it is very much an ensemble show. Actually I’d say it’s also more of a variety show than a strictly comedy show, since so much of each episode was devoted to the music. Among those regularly appearing on the show were Gordie Tapp, Don Harron, Roy Acuff, David “Stringbean” Akeman, Cathy Baker, Barbi Benton, Archie Campbell, Jim and Jon Hager, Grandpa Jones, George Lindsey, Irlene Mandrell, Rev. Grady Nutt, Minnie Pearl Slim Pickens, Lulu Roman, Misty Rowe, Junior Samples, Gailard Sartain, and Jonathan Winters, and many, many others.
Hee Haw actually only lasted for two years on CBS, from 1969-1971. CBS dropped the show in July 1971 as part of what became known as the “Rural Purge”, along with fellow country-themed shows The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and Green Acres because the network felt that those shows skewed too far outside the younger demographic they were trying to draw in. After that, the show moved to syndication where it lasted for 20 more years. Personally I’d say that the move was the right one for the show, as I doubt that it would have lasted anywhere near as long on a network.
Okay, that’s probably enough background. Let’s take a look at a sample show. Unfortunately, I have no idea where this episode comes from or when it first aired, but it does seem pretty exemplary of the show.
And as a special bonus, here’s a short (roughly 30 minute) documentary featuring some behind the scenes footage and interviews with some of the show’s creators and stars.