Tom and Dick Smothers Comedians, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”
Tom and Dick Smothers, the groundbreaking Smothers Brothers, are the most enduring comedy duo in history, having performed together professionally since 1959. Their landmark TV show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” debuted in 1967, quickly became a counter-cultural lightning rod and set enduring First Amendment precedents that altered the course of comedy history. With their irreverent humor and singular blend of comedic and musical talent, the brothers satirized politics, combated racism, and protested the Vietnam War, while pushing the boundaries of what was considered permissible on network television. Despite their tremendous popularity, CBS fired the Smothers Brothers due to political pressure in April 1969. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their wrongful firing, which was litigated in the precedent-setting censorship case Smothers Brothers v. CBS, Inc.
Tom and Dick Smothers attended San Jose State University, where they were exposed to a growing folk music scene. With Tom performing on acoustic guitar and Dick on stand-up bass, they developed a unique act that incorporated comedy banter and folk songs. Their first professional appearance at the Purple Onion in San Francisco in 1959 led to appearances at night clubs throughout the country. In the early 1960s, they made their first national television appearance on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show” and recorded the first of 12 top-selling albums.
“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” vaulted the brothers to national celebrity and was awarded the 1968 Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical or Variety Series (40 years later, in 2008, Tom Smothers was belatedly recognized with an individual Emmy Award for his significant contributions to television history). Following their sudden termination by CBS, the Smothers Brothers performed in dinner theater across the country, starred on Broadway and toured their live musical comedy act for more than three decades, including acclaimed performances at the Chautauqua Institution and Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown. They retired from public performance in 2010. The National Comedy Center and Chautauqua Institution are honored that Tom and Dick have agreed to take the stage for this very special on-stage reunion and interview, as they reflect on comedy and censorship – both 50 years ago and today.
The Smothers Brothers will be interviewed by David Bianculli, who has been the television critic for National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” where he also appears as occasional guest host, since 1987. Beginning in 1975, he’s worked as a daily TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993 to 2007. He also has written for TV Guide, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and dozens of other publications. Currently, he is editor of the website TV Worth Watching, which he launched in 2007. Bianculli teaches TV studies as a tenured full professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.
He has written four books – The Platinum Age of Television: From “I Love Lucy” to “The Walking Dead”;How TV became Terrific; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”; Dictionary of Teleliteracy; and Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously – and is at work on a fifth. He has a bachelor’s in journalism and a masters in journalism and communications, both from the University of Florida.
(Note: This biography was up-to-date as of the date of the lecture. Biographies are not updated over time.)