The nation lost one of its comedy icons Tuesday. Tommy Smothers died.
Before Saturday Night Live set the modern-day standard for a television political-comedy variety show there was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Hosted by Tom and Dick Smothers the show changed television forever by pushing the boundaries of network censorship.
While their act appeared to be traditional network fare – they performed a corny, but consistently funny routine where they played American folk music but continually interrupted each other, bickering as brothers often do – they laced their musical variety show with satire poking fun at sensitive subjects like the War in Vietnam, sex, racism, and marijuana use.
I loved the show and their act. Tommy Smothers was the comic of the pair, lampooning himself to Dick’s straight-man routine, making famous the line, “Mom liked you best!” While he always portrayed himself as the weaker of the two brothers, he began one show sitting on the floor with pommel handles on either side of him. He lifted himself into the air with his feet elevated and then curled his body into a plank position, using only his arms. He then let go of one of the handles.
Employing writers like Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, the show was consistently funny and consistently controversial. It featured comedians Bob Newhart, George Carlin (the Hippy Dippy Weatherman), and Richard Pryor along with musical performances by Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, the Doors, and Joan Baez.
The show was so outrageous (for late 1960s television) that then-President Johnson called the head of CBS demanding the show be taken off the air. After only two years the show was indeed canceled, despite its high network ratings.
Tom went on to help John Lennon record “Give Peace a Chance” and received a special Emmy award in 2008.
A sad day for America