The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
Entertainment | October 17, 2017
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From 1967 to 1969, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour defied the censors and riled up political issues. Tommy and Dick Smothers were the daring duo who took on censorship during their popular show. Although they were up for a 4th season, the thriving show was taken off the air and the brothers were fired. They turned around and sued CBS and won, becoming the faces for the fight of free speech in entertainment.
They began their career in 1959 as folk satirists. Tommy played guitar and was the fibbing, emotional one onstage. Dick played the bass and was the straight-laced counterpart of the comedy team which usually led to arguments between the brothers. Tommy’s signature line was, “Mom always liked you best!” Their first TV series was a situation comedy called “The Smothers Brothers Show” (1965–1966). Tom played an angel who came back to earth to watch over his brother Dick, who played a swinging bachelor. It didn’t do well in the ratings and didn’t have the music that viewers had identified with the brothers. Tom said later in an interview that “Four Star (the production company) gave me ulcers.”
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour appealed to both younger and older viewers with their high-profile celebrity guests and quality entertainment that bridged the generation gap. Popular bands or musicians like Jimi Hendrix , Donovan and The Doors- to name but a famous few -came on the show to debut new music which was unusual for that time. The Beatles even debuted their exclusive U.S. videotape premiere of “Hey Jude” on their show.
Tommy and Dick made fun of politics, the Vietnam War, religion and sexuality. Nothing was sacred! Comedians like David Steinberg, Albert Brooks and Jackie Mason stoked the censorship fires with their controversial humor.
A performance by The Who in 1967 was a defining and memorable moment for the show. The Who destroyed their instruments at the conclusion of their performance of “My Generation”, with the usual mild explosives they used for a pyro effect. Guitarist Pete Townshend even grabbed Tommy’s guitar and smashed it. That night a small amount of explosive was put in the small cannon that Keith Moon kept in his bass drum. But it didn’t go off during the rehearsal, so unbeknownst to Moon, a stagehand added another explosive before the taping. Moon also added another charge so there were three explosive charges in the cannon instead of one. When Keith detonated it, the explosion was so intense that a piece of cymbal shrapnel sliced his arm and he was moaning in pain at the end of the piece. Townshend was in front of the drums at the time and his hair was singed by the blast. He was putting out the sparks in his hair before finishing the sketch with a very shocked Tommy Smothers. That blast contributed immensely to Townshend’s long-term hearing loss.
Although canceled in 1969, the show won an Emmy Award that year for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy, Variety or Music. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was revived in the 1988–89 TV season with the return of cast regular Pat Paulsen, along with new performers. This lasted for only one season. Then in 1993, the series was revamped for E! Network and featured introductions by the Smothers Brothers along with new interview footage by guests from the original series.