The Smothers get the last laugh
The Globe and Mail, July 28, 2006 (unedited version)
The longest-running comedy team in the history of show business has made a living bickering on stage. And it wasn’t always an act.
Tommy Smothers, who plays the dim-witted, guitar-playing half of the Smothers Brothers, says their relationship got to the point where they needed couple’s counselling ten years ago. “They said we should just forget about being brothers and treat each other like professionals and stop bringing up old shit,” he says by phone from his home in Sonoma Valley, California, where he runs Remick Ridge Vineyards. “We love each other but we do have a lot of sincere differences.”
One bone of contention remains politics. Tom has always been a “screaming, left-wing liberal,” while Dick is the pragmatic conservative. The Museum of Broadcast Communications calls their Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which aired on CBS-TV from 1967 to 1969, “one of the most controversial television shows in the medium's history.” The duo was fired after one too many run-ins with the censors.
“I think it was that we were just quite in tune with the consciousness of all the people thinking the Vietnam war was bad,” the 69-year-old comic says. “All these things were happening and all of the people on our show were young and we all started taking that position. It just slowly evolved until [the network] started saying, ‘You can’t say that.’ And of course that’s the worst thing you can tell a comedian: ‘Don’t say that.’ Well, they’re gonna say it!”
Dick didn’t care one way or another. “He said, ‘Just don’t make any mistakes,’” remembers older brother Tommy. “I said, ‘I won’t.’ Of course, I did and we were fired,” he laughs.
The brothers will be performing at the River Rock Show Theatre in Richmond tonight, one night before half of another famous comedy pair, Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong, who couldn’t make it past the 15-year mark together. The Smothers are going into their 48th year as a team.
Smothers says their live show, while clean and light-hearted, canÌ still pack a political punch.
“When people leave the show, they know exactly where we stand,” he says. “We haven’t walked away from it. If we did the same show on television, we’d have all kinds of problems. ... Its not hard-hitting satire but it’s certainly strong social commentary about the condition of the world and the condition of the United States. But it’s not a preachy show, it’s a fun show. It’s a family show and it’s got the right amount of sarcasm and the right amount of laughter.”
The Smothers started out as a serious musical group before Tommy’s silly introductions got the better of them. Despite wanting to be a band leader growing up, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s something about comedy that if you have the ≥gift, you gravitate towards it because it is more unique than being a good musician,” he says. “If you get the comedy gift going, there’s a tendency to let the other stuff take a second position. I’m a pretty good guitar player and we sing very well... [But] there’s nothing better than getting a laugh. And there’s nothing worse than trying to get a laugh and missing.”
After 48 years in the business, they don’t miss too much now.