The Tom and Dick Smothers were singing comedians. Both were born on Governors Island, in New York City's Harbor, (Tom in 1937, Dick in 1939). They grew-up in California. Their first professional performance was in 1959. They also made several successful record albums before appearing on TV's, "JACK PAAR SHOW," (January 28, 1961). In 1964, they debuted in a dramatic (comedic) role as hoarders on, "BURKE'S LAW."
THEIR SCHTICK MIXED FOLK MUSIC WITH COMEDY. TOM (left) ON ACOUSTIC GUITAR, TOOK ON A SLOW-WITTED PERSONA. DICK (right) ON STRING BASS, WAS THE SMART, STRAIGHT MAN. THEIR PERFORMANCE WAS TYPICALLY INTERRUPTED BY AN ARGUMENT AND ENDED WITH TOM'S SIGNATURE STATEMENT, "MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BEST." THEY WERE SUCH GOOD ACTORS BECAUSE, I ONLY RECENTLY LEARNED THAT IN ACTUALITY, TOM (the older one) WAS CLEARLY THE LEADER, HAD SHREWD BUSINESS SENSE AND POSSESSED MORE ARTISTIC CREATIVITY.
In 1965-1966, they got their own TV program, "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW." To their dissatisfaction, their strong point (music) was never included. Instead Tom portrayed an angel who came to earth to oversee (interfere with) his brother, a swinging bachelor.
Despite that situation-comedy's short life, CBS in 1967, gave them another opportunity with the, "SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR." It started out as a hip version of the popular variety shows of its day. Headed by a team of comedy writers that included; Steve Martin, Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello, Rob Reiner, Bob Einstein and his brother Albert Brooks, Leigh French and Pat Paulsen...the show had a skyrocketing appeal to the younger (15-25), generation.
Soon, the CBS censors placed restrictions on the humor when sponsors deemed some of the material to be controversial and not in their best interests. However, satirizing race, the president and the war in Vietnam was the show's defining content.
Similar pressure limited the lyrics and themes of their musical guests like; George Harrison, Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield, Donovan, Janis Ian, Peter, Paul & Mary, Steppenwolf, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel and Pete Seeger.
To protect their financial interests, CBS insisted that all scripts must be reviewed ten days prior to air. Depending who your source is, the show either worked in earnest to fit their art into the network's professional integrity standards or they were outright rebellious...and only wanted to see how far they could push the envelope. Therefore, words, concepts and entire songs were eliminated by CBS. This scrutiny also happened to comedy skits. The network even put the kibosh on a whole episode.
To baffle the censors, the writers were forced underground. To the delight of their target demographic who felt that the encrypted double-entendre punchlines (mainly from the hippie/drug culture) were for them only...and better yet, went over their parents' heads. I was too young and never picked-up on any of the coded jokes...to me, the Smothers Brothers were just funny.
EDITOR'S NOTE - For more in depth information about how the Smothers Brothers became folk heroes and their struggles for free speech, check-out the documentary, "SMOTHERED."
LEIGH FRENCH (center) HAD A MAJOR ROLE IN THE HIDDEN COUNTERCULTURE WORD PLAY. SHE PLAYED SPACED-OUT, GOLDIE O'KEEFE AND SOLOED IN A SKIT CALLED, "SHARE A LITTLE TEA WITH GOLDIE." IN THE PSYCHEDELIC 60's, THE TERM, "SHARING TEA" WAS A EUPHEMISM FOR SMOKING POT. EVEN HER NAMES, "GOLDIE" AND "KEIF," WERE NICKNAMES FOR MARIJUANA. FREQUENTLY, SHE OFFERED HOUSEHOLD HINTS LACED WITH INSIDER SEX AND DRUG REFERENCES LIKE; THE BEST WAYS TO DEAL WITH YOUR, "ROACHES."
One of the other writers, Pat Paulsen also became a common on-screen character. He was discovered and given his big break into show business when Tom and Dick spotted him performing in a San Francisco nightclub. They hired him because he sold his songs cheap and agreed to run errands.
Paulsen, (July 6, 1927-April 24, 1997), was first cast as an editorialist due to his deadpan expression and skill when delivering double-talk, on contemporary issues. The logical next step was to have him do a mock presidential election campaign. In 1968, this recurring skit injected him into national consciousness.
LIKE A PAVLOVIAN CUE, EVERY ELECTION DAY, I SALIVATE AND THINK OF THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS AND PAT PAULSEN. EVEN AFTER THE SHOW ENDED, HE "RAN" FOR PRESIDENT AGAIN IN, '72, '80, '92 AND '96. IN EACH ELECTION, HE RECEIVED A SURPRISING AMOUNT OF PROTEST VOTES.
Paulsen's anti-establishment platform was purely comedic. But over the course of twenty-five years his sarcastic zingers against mainstream politicos and relevant social problems got voters to think in new ways. Although his comments and criticisms were based on seriousness, it was obvious that his clowning was exaggerations, lies and tongue-in-cheek raillery. Some of my favorite Paulsen-isms are:
- A good many people feel our present draft laws are unjust. These people are called soldiers.
- (Campaign chant) We can't stand pat!
- I'm neither left wing or right wing. I'm middle of the bird.
- If either the left wing or the right wing gained control of the USA, we'd fly in circles.
I will never lose my appreciation for Pat Paulsen, the Smothers Brothers or their writers. But I feel that the whole concept of him running for president was stolen from, "MAD MAGAZINE."
"MAD MAGAZINE," STARTED THEIR, "ALFRED E. NEUMAN FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN," IN 1960. HE NEVER RECEIVED THE VOLUME OF PROTEST VOTES THAT PAULSEN GOT BUT TO ME, HE'LL ALWAYS BE THE ORIGINAL AND BEST FAKE CANDIDATE... OOPS, I LIKED RONALD REAGAN TOO.
Ironically, the same humor that played a role in, "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR," getting cancelled is still considered politically incorrect, (they were actually fired after only 72 episodes, on April 4, 1969). This was proven when this "poster show for the first amendment," was re-run with plenty of bleeps, in 1993, on the E-CHANNEL.
When you consider that the Smothers Brothers and "Mad," both scoffed at the same things, I think if Paulsen and Neuman were on next year's ballot, I'd vote for Alfred E. Neuman. My reason is, "MAD" has been going strong since 1952 and because they don't cave-in to their sponsors, (they don't allow advertisements), I doubt Mr. Neuman was ever censored. But far more importantly, even though Pat Paulsen has not been with us for fourteen years...he's a perennial...which means he left a lasting impression on many people.
I'm sure Pavlov would again be proud to know, next November at election time, the mere thought of Paulsen's name will result in some disgruntled Americans having their mouth water...as they cast a write-in vote for him. And I bet its a landslide compared to what Neuman gets.