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An Oklahoma History Center exhibit celebrates ‘Hee Haw’ as it traces the TV show’s roots to the Sooner State.

Charles Martin June 8th, 2011

Any bona fide Okie has spent more than one weekend hour with the iconic, corny, country humor of “Hee Haw.”

The television series’ uniquely rural comedic style had an impact on the South, which is why the Oklahoma History Center has devoted an exhibit to the show and one of its stars with “Pickin’ and Grinnin’,” on display through May 2012.

“Hee Haw” aired from 1969 to 1992, surviving in syndication for its last 20 years. State roots ran deep in the show, not only because Clark hosted, but because a long line of Oklahoma performers appeared on it.

“There was Roy Clark, Sheb Woolley, Ricki Page, Gailard Sartain,” said Larry O’Dell, museum director of collections. “With Oklahoma’s ties to country music, we counted over 40 people that were guest stars from Oklahoma on that show. Garth Brooks keeps everything, and loaned us the cowboy hat he was wearing the first time he was on ‘Hee Haw,’ along with the overalls, the shirt and the guitar.”

The long-running variety show didn’t invent country humor, he said, but reflected a tradition of traveling tent and radio shows that thrived in the Sooner State from the 1920s through the 1940s. A fascination with hillbilly culture in the ’70s helped the show make its mark on the wider public.

Based on the “Laugh-In” model, “Hee Haw” transported the humor of the South to big-city markets.

“People like Minnie Pearl and Grandpa Jones were stars in Nashville in the Grand Ole Opry; therefore, stars on the radio regionally,” O’Dell said. “The show introduced them to New York City and L.A. It spread more than just country music and gospel, but the entertainers and the variety-show format throughout the country.”

Although country humor might be dismissed easily, he believes it is a critical part of the Oklahoma experience for anyone growing up as rural residents.

“It’s culture. It’s part of our past,” O’Dell said. “It’s kind of what a lot of Oklahomans are, and some might want to get away from that, but others want to embrace it.”

 
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