Friday, November 20, 2009

Happy 70th Birthday, Dick Smothers

If you're old enough to remember the late 1960s, you probably remember "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."

It was a variety show that was decidedly left–leaning in its politics. It was on the air in the era of the "Generation Gap," and the gap was never as easy to see as it was in generational viewing choices. On Sunday nights, older viewers gravitated to more traditional programming, like "Bonanza" on NBC, or more neutral fare, like the ABC "Sunday Night Movie," while younger viewers were drawn to the Smothers Brothers with their hipper, edgier comedy and popular musical guests.

The comedy seems pretty tame when you look at it today, but I guess anything does after 40 years. And when you realize exactly how tame the comedy on the show really was, it makes it all the more difficult to understand the constant struggle between the show's writers and the network's censors. The Smothers Brothers couldn't resist satire, and they were always running into trouble over something that they said or planned to say about race, the president or the war in Vietnam.

The comedy seemed outrageous to me when I was 7 years old, but when I look at it today, I think to myself that I've seen things that were more risqué on "Saturday Night Live."

Tommy was a few years older, and one of the running gags on the show was his protest that "Mom always liked you best!" Tommy was the slow one, and some of the viewers related to that. Dick, meanwhile, came across as more intelligent, more knowledgeable — which also made him seem less approachable somehow.

Well, Mom may have liked Dick best, but Tommy got most of the punch lines.

Anyway, today, Dick is celebrating his 70th birthday. Tommy reached that milestone nearly three years ago. They still perform together after more than 50 years — the longest–lived comedy team in history.

Happy birthday, Dick. Glad you're still here.