I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I have always had a theory about families and entertainment from that era. It is a theory worthy of educational research, intellectual pontification, and possibly a special segment on the fourth hour of Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda.
Here’s my theory: you can divide families from that era into two camps—you were either a Hee Haw family or a Lawrence Welk Show family.
There, I said it, on the record, if you will. For you young whipper-snappers out there (who probably don’t even know what a whipper-snapper is and who need to GET OFF MY LAWN right now), back in the dark ages we had no cell phones, no Netflix, no YouTube. We had to watch programs as THEY AIRED on television. In my house, we even had to get up and MANUALLY CHANGE THE CHANNEL, right after we trudged across the prairie to Olsen’s Mercantile for sundries.
On Saturday nights from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM in most markets, there were two main choices, as different as night and day: Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk.
The Lawrence Welk Show was helmed by a famous bandleader, who, in his lilting accent, introduced classic songs and showtunes, performed by sharply-dressed (we’re talking ball gowns and tuxedoes) beautiful people while bubbles wafted around them. I am not kidding—look it up. It was perceived as culturally-enriching, sophisticated entertainment.
With Hee Haw, you got men in overalls and flannel and ladies in gingham and pig tails telling the corniest of jokes, often in the middle of a cornfield. Music was provided by popular country singers of the day. One of my favorite segments was the used car commercial parodies featuring Junior Samples, a portly man who, in his thick Southern accent, encouraged us to call “BR-549” for the latest deal. There were no showtunes, bubbles, evening gowns, nor tuxedoes in sight.
Our Saturday choice was always Hee Haw. We were a blue-collar family in a rural Southern town, so it made sense (although I did have friends from Lawrence Welk families, but they were in the minority). As I theorize, I realize those Saturday night broadcasts influenced my writing.
I love to write humor—shocking, I know—and will never miss a chance to include a corny joke. Even in my day job as a teacher, I always go for cheap humor. The other day my students were introducing themselves, and one boy said he was from Indiana (I still live in the South, in Kentucky). My response: “Boy, that has to be the longest bus ride every day!” It was like I was standing in the cornfield with Archie Campbell (another Hee Haw regular).
I prefer a simpler, folksy approach to writing, much like my Hee Haw brethren. I am not knocking those who watched Lawrence Welk and even have actual friends in that camp who are fine writers. I guess I feel more comfortable on the “lowbrow” side of things, but there’s room for both of us.
That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it. I can’t pick, but I am a-grinnin’.
Carlton Hughes grew up watching classic television and riding his bicycle without a helmet (don’t try that at home). He is a communications professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, children’s pastor at Lynch Church of God, and a freelance writer. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Simple Little Words, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and several devotional books from Worthy Publishing: Let the Earth Rejoice, So God Made a Dog, Just Breathe, and the forthcoming Everyday Grace for Men. He loves good chocolate, University of Kentucky Basketball, and I Love Lucy reruns.