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Two Smothered Brothers


Smothers BrothersLaurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello, Allens & Burns, Martin & Lewis, Rowan & Martin and even the Sixties comedy team Tom & Dick Smothers had a “straight man”. Dick - “You’re stupid. You’re dumb. You’re not a man. You’ve never done anything right. You’re a failure. You’ll never amount to anything.” Tommy – “Yeah, and Mom liked you best.”   


Real life brothers, Tommy and Dick Smothers were a popular duo in the 60s and 70s.  Tom picked an acoustic guitar; Dick plucked an upright bass. Two suit-and-tied, clean cut brothers, they attempted to sing folk songs, pretending to get into arguments about the arrangements. Their act didn’t exactly sound like a brew for ha ha-s, did it?  But you had to be  positioned in front of your  black & white set on a Sunday night to appreciate the banter and the smoke screen for sharp shootin’, irreverent satire which characterized The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69).  CBS’ smokin’ gun drew fire, and bull’s-eye—shot NBC’s long running Western, Bonanza, off of its high horse. Sho nuf, the Smothers Brothers had a conservative, youthful appeal the network was looking for. A brouhaha was more like it!  


The Smothers Brothers were hot alright!  When they got topical, it got tropical!  Politics, racism, the Vietnam War… Hosted and produced by members of their/our generation, the likes of Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Pat Paulsen, Bob Einstein, Mason Williams, Leigh French, and Lorenzo Music wrote some pretty heady and incendiary stuff.  The show also presented the top musical acts of the 60s, many who were black listed elsewhere due to the nature of their music: The Doors, Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Pete Seeger, and let’s not forget The Who, who went out with a bang by exploding their drums!  Maybe I saved the best guest for last—Pat Paulsen, one of the irreverent irregulars, highly endorsed in his comedic bid to run for President of the United States, also generated heat under the collars of rigid execs. 


Apparently no man’s collar got tighter than the one which began to choke the real President of the  United States-- none other than No. 37, Richard M. Nixon, aka Tricky Dick. Dickie masterminded “Watergate,” the break-in at Democratic National Committee Headquarters, for which he resigned in 1974 rather than face the noose of impeachment. Now, this would have been prime time fodder for Tommy and Dick, but their show got smothered in 1969…because…because…rumor has it that Richard Nixon pressured CBS to cancel The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour as he didn’t want a weekly comedy show ridiculing his administration the way the duo had already roasted Johnson over the coals.  


Tommyisms – “I didn’t realize I was important until they made me shut up.” 


                     “The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of the people not to listen.” 


                    “The ultimate censorship is the flick of the dial.” 


So, on April of 1969, the Smothers Brothers were fired by CBS.  Prior to the axe, the network had been censoring or excising phrases, songs, and comedy segments. A cat and mouse game ensued with Tommy Smothers turning in show scripts too late for editing before broadcast, and CBS subsequently demanding their review by Wednesday of each week. CBS claimed the last show was turned in late, signifying a breach of contract, so killed the comedy act, sporting a Cheshire grin. Though a lawsuit determined a wrongful firing by CBS, two loose canons had been snuffed.  Posthumously, in 2008, during the 60th Annual Emmy Awards, Steve Martin presented Tommy an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy Variety for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour of 1968.   


It is purported that the final day of Nixon’s presidency involved “burn sessions” in several rooms of the White House where aides torched potentially troublesome documents in fireplaces.  After Nixon gave his resignation speech, he was described as “haggard and ashen” before boarding Air Force I. On the other hand, the Smothers Brothers have been described as comedic treasures, comic geniuses, rare, original, and peerless.  Highly respected for exercising their freedom of expression under the First Amendment, they have received numerous awards.  In the case of the Smothers Brothers, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”



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