PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The Dean Martin Variety Show was one of the highest-rated shows on TV in the 1960s, but people forget how progressive and subversive the comedy on the show was. Martin introduced American audiences to Monty Python and Marty Feldman, and at a time when the racial divide in this country was rarely breached, the Dean Martin show regularly featured stand-up comedy from the then-young Bill Cosby and Flip Wilson. The show also addressed what could have been touchy social issues in the patented Rat Pack “who cares as long as nobody gets hurt” manner.

In the above clip, a recurring bit where Nipsy Russell and Dom DeLuise played the “NBC Barbers” who would be cutting the hair of that week’s guest, the guest is Peter Sellers, who discovered earlier in the day that he could reduce Martin to tears by doing a campy “gay” voice. Without any prior warning, he began the sketch, in which he was supposed to be speaking normally as himself, using that voice. You can see how it caught Russell and DeLuise off guard, but when Dino enters the sketch it really takes off.

The cool thing about The Dean Martin Show was that Martin never rehearsed. He’d walk in at the last minute and read his lines off the cue cards, often ad-libbing just to mess with his well-rehearsed co-stars. After the jump check out some more clips from The Dean Martin Show, featuring Goldie Hawn, Don Rickles, and more. This was the heyday of the show, not the last few years when the show was reduced to cranked-out celebrity “roasts.” These are examples why, in the history of comedy, Dean Martin matters.

Finally, here’s Dom DeLuise and Orson Welles on The Dean Martin Show, doing a sketch originally written by Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor for “At Last, The 1948 Show” for the BBC.