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Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" - David Bianculli Fired not Canceled and other irrelevant distinctions of the Genius Tommy SmothersI just finished Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” by David Bianculli. It is a wonderful recounting of Tom and Dick Smothers overcoming the death of their father in a POW camp on Bataan, and the revolving door of men in and out of their mother’s life. I laughed and laughed, and Mr. Bianculli does a wonderful job of capturing their rise to fame that at first seemed like as arbitrary and strange as driftwood washed up on a beach. Their self-destruction seems just another of the many vast right wing conspiracy stories that like a chronic drug induced paranoia hang over what is left of the brains many of the 1960’s flower power warriors. Like many, many other examples in their career, they were possibly the first recorded case psychedelic battle fatigue. Some self-disclosure: From a political standpoint, there in not a single position of Tom and Dick that I know about that I agree with. But I have always loved their humor, and for some reason the Smothers Brothers show is one I actually remember from my early childhood. I was only 6 or 7 when it went off the air. Politics aside, Tommy was a genius. The caliber of talent Tommy was able to place in front of America over and over and over again was and remains unparalleled. The writers alone included names like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. The Who, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane all appeared on the Smothers Brothers before they were widely known to America and the world. Tommy worked with the greatest straight man, his brother Dick, since Gracie Allen. All of this was fueled and focused by Tommy very real and passionate idealism. Each week Tommy used his persona as a not too bright, but warm hearted little boy whose only desire was to have his mother’s love, trapped in the body of a grown man who took positions each week that put the counter in counter culture – and he killed. KILLED!The Smothers Brothers went up against the biggest baddest television icon of American independence and grit – Bonanza; and the Smothers Brothers achieved what no one before them had ever done. The Smothers Brothers drew more viewers. This is what makes Tommy’s actions so infuriating and incomprehensible. Apparently Tommy is allergic to censorship. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to defend CBS standard and practices, the Nixon administration, or even the lemming like mindset of the greatest generation who by this time were in their 40’s and just wanted a century or so of peace after surviving WWII. But Tommy was fighting the wrong battle.Almost from the start CBS began limiting what he could say, and how he could say it. Over and over again, the anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-conformity present in Tommy’s humor resonated with his audience, and he had the love of the American people to prove it. Rather than using his immense talent to express his ideas in a different way. Knowing CBS would veto a bit with a not too subtle marijuana reference “Tea with Mary Jane”, the name that followed “A Little Tea with Goldie O’Keefe”. It got past the censors, but not the Smothers Brothers audience. With each battle Tommy became more entrenched, and victory with the audience was superseded by Tommy’s demand for a victory with the CBS censors. Tommy’s stubbornness was equivalent to Vincent Van Gogh demanding praise from the blind. Ultimately, Tommy was not the loser, but rather the American people. In the arena of ideas the best idea does not always win. Look no further than the words our own Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, an idea that was almost immediately vanquished in constitution that did not outlaw slavery. Tommy had the chance to elevate the ideas being discussed in his day, and he missed it. Satire by its very nature is subversive, but Tommy became more interested in preaching about the hypocrisy of the censors. Yell at a fat man about his obesity, and he will remain fat. Make him chase you and like or not, his physical condition will improve. From the moment CBS took the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour off the air, and to this day, Tommy has argued with all his might that the show was not canceled, but that he and Dick were fired. A federal court would later agree with Tommy. But the Vietnam war continued for five more years, Nixon was elected to a second term before endangering our republic and disgracing his office, and Tommy’s ideas, censored or not, were no longer in front of a massive American audience. Tommy is certainly not to blame for these events. But there is a cliché of note which says that a rising tide lifts all boats Had his ideas remained in the American arena now known as “the ‘60’s” it may have been enough to raise us past these outcomes. Sadly, all we know for sure is that Tom and Dick Smothers were fired and not canceled.