Playboy Laughs: The Comedy, Comedians and Cartoons of Playboy
By Patty Farmer
Beaufort Books, 355 Pages
Judging by a chronological list of Playboy covers, I started reading the magazine about January 1967 and stopped with the October 1970 issue, which featured twins Madeleine and Mary Collinson. In the years that followed, Playboy, which at the age of 15 had seemed to me simultaneously sophisticated and smutty, was eclipsed at newsstands across America by the raunchiness of Larry Flynt’s Hustler and to a lesser extent Bob Guccione’s Penthouse. Rather than being purchased at the drugstore for 75 cents or $1, like Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse could be found at the back of the bottom drawer of the manager’s desk at United Parcel Service, my employer at the time.
Sorry, these dots in the letter P don’t mean what you think they mean. (July 1968 cover with Lynn Hahn).
And so in 2017, we have this rather peculiar volume, part of an intended trilogy by Patty Farmer, which surveys the history of the Playboy clubs and their comedy entertainers, the Playboy TV shows, the magazine’s cartoons and similar subjects. Yes, the humor, the bunny costumes, the view of women, are all problematic today, but I’m not even going to open that door in a brief review.
Farmer is a pretty fair writer and conducted numerous interviews for this book. But the subjects are mixed. The big names of the another era are there (Rich Little, George Carlin, Frank Gorshin, Jack Paar, etc.). But others are much less familiar. Yes, I know Larry Storch was a comedian before F-Troop and I remember Dick Gregory when he was still doing standup – I really am that old. I even recall Jerry Van Dyke from My Mother, the Car. So if you recognize names like Jackie Gayle, Tom Dreesen and Julie Budd (and I do not), this book may be for you.
Playboy Laughs is a light read and, frankly, I preferred the interviews with the cartoonists over the rest of the book. Hugh Hefner started out as a comics artist and Playboy Laughs reflects his guiding interest in the magazine’s cartoons. The interview with Jules Feiffer – and I’m a big fan of Feiffer – is one of the best parts of the book.
It’s hard to figure out the target audience for Playboy Laughs. It doesn’t qualify as aging Baby Boomer nostalgia because most of us were underage and couldn’t get into a Playboy Club. I would suspect that younger readers – and that would be most people living today – wouldn’t know or care much about the dimly remembered 1950s and ‘60s, which were Playboy’s heyday. At best, it’s one volume – and a fairly readable one — in a breezily written corporate history of what was once the Playboy empire.