Andy Griffith Bombed on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ Before He Was Famous

by Mark Long

Andy Griffith’s legacy is secure as everybody’s favorite country sheriff on “The Andy Griffith Show” and big city country lawyer Ben Matlock. Before his television success, however, he had a career as a stand-up comic and humorist. While this led to his later roles, one memorable experience for the wrong reasons was a disastrous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Andy Griffith: Comic

Born in 1912 in North Carolina, Griffith first gained success as a monologist: telling long-winded stories usually from the perspective of a country preacher. His most famous one was “What It Was, Was Football,” which was about a preacher stumbling across a football game and trying to figure out what it was all about.

In fact, it was this routine that led to his future manager Richard Linke signing him to a contract. Driving around in his Rolls Royce, Linke heard Griffith performing it on the radio and quickly tracked him down.

The ‘Ed Sullivan’ Flop

“The Ed Sullivan Show” was on Sunday night from 1948 to 1971 on CBS. It featured almost every type of entertainment act from classical music to pop artists to circus acts to comedians. Anyone who wanted to make it big tried to get on the show. For example, appearances on it made both Elvis Presley and the Beatles stars across America.

Griffith performed his routine about football on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1954, but it didn’t get the response he hoped for. Recalling the incident later, he insisted he didn’t get a single laugh. The video from that episode of Sullivan’s show demonstrates that wasn’t exactly true. Nonetheless, this appearance was supposed the be the first of four, but Sullivan canceled the subsequent ones.

Griffith’s Career Rebounds

Thankfully, as television fans know, Griffith managed to overcome this early stumble. Even before “The Andy Griffith Show” began its successful run in 1960, he made many other well-received television appearances. These included the routine below in 1958 on “The Milton Berle Show” about a frontier psychiatrist.

Stars who endure are measured not just by their successes but also by how they rebound from failure. Many people thought Kevin Costner was through after the epic flop “Waterworld,” but he’s still entertaining fans today on “Yellowstone.” In the same way, Griffith didn’t let one bad night define him and instead wound up creating a legendary career.