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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.”

Charles Martin

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