Indeed, their legacy hinges on both of these topics, but their comedy is more than just a time capsule. Now 50 years later, Tom and Dick are as funny as ever, and their best jokes aren't always topical.
Tom and Dick form a perfect partnership of baffoon and straight man. Even better than comedy legends Abbott and Costello, these brothers seemlessly work together with scripted dialogue and improv. Their mischieviousness blends effortlessly with social commentary, sometimes to the degree that the message slips in without the audience realizing it. That's craft.
The first time I consciously watched the Smothers Brothers was in an episode of The Dick Cavett Show.
I say consciously because as a kid, I used to watch Tommy in The Yo-Yo Man, something my mom randomly picked up for my dad, which he promptly shelved. (This was a common occurance.)
On The Dick Cavett Show, which was recorded in 1971 after the brothers were fired by CBS, they work more as individuals than as a team. Tom tries for laughs, and Dick tries to have a more serious conversation, especially with nutrition expert Adele Davis.
Tom plays the stooge incredibly well. He feigns ignorance at having appeared on the show before, and Cavett says, "You know, people are going to wonder if you're really as dense as you seem... People think you're this clod that you play."
This piqued my interest, so I did what I always do when I want to see more of a star I like. I went to the library website and searched for the Smothers Brothers.
Unfortunately, at that time The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was not available on DVD, so the only thing the library had available was a documentary about their censorship battles.
But I was lucky, and about a year later, Time Life began releasing The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in backwards order. Granted, these are not full seasons, but selected "best of" episodes personally chosen by Tom and Dick. But what is available is much better than nothing.
If you get a chance to see these guys perform live, do it. They are still touring, mostly in the southern United States where the climate is nice. If you can't, buy their DVDs. The humor is still funny even after all these years, and unlike most modern comedy, it is tame enough for children to watch.Horray for the Smothers Brothers!
recommendations: "Boil That Cabbage Down," "I Fell in a Vat of Chocolate," "Song of the Volga Boatmen," "I Talk to the Trees"