Book Review: Dangerously Funny by David Bianculli


Author:  David Bianculli
Title: Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”
Publication Info:  Tantor Media (2010)
ISBN:  9781400115709
Summary/Review:  When I was young I discovered records by The Smothers Brothers in my family records collections and became a fan of their witty interpretations of folk music classics.  I even went to see them perform live one time and was sorely disappointed by what felt like a phoned-in performance.  The show was days after The Gulf War began in 1991 and since I knew the Smothers Brothers’ tv show was notoriously anti-war during the Vietnam era and expected some commentary on the contemporary situation but there was none to be had.

Well, I can’t explain that bad show but after reading Bianculli’s book I’ve learned much about their great show that aired for three seasons on CBS in the the late 1960s.  The first thing I learned is that the Smothers Brothers are unlike their onstage personas.  Tommy Smothers, the dumb brat in the act is actually the brains behind it all.  Bianculli depicts Tom as a keen talent scout giving young musicians tv exposure before they had mainstream appeal and hiring great comedians and writers (many of the musicians, comedians, and writers would go on to greater fame).  It was also Tommy who would lead the fight against network censors to who tried to squelch political and anti-war speech in the show.  While the network censorship battles are detailed with all the gory details and seem unfair (and often absurd due to how tame the Smother Brothers show seems in retrospect), Bianculli also show that Tom Smother over-earnest desire to fight fanned the flames of the show’s demise.

Each episode is described in detail with Bianculli emphasizing the innovation, stand-out performances, and counter-cultural undertones of the shows.  The backstage story is also rollicking with humorous anecdotes of multiple generations of entertainers working on the show.  The show didn’t last long but its legacy remains. Bianculli credits the Smothers Brothers with laying the groundwork for innovative shows of the 1970s from Saturday Night Live to M*A*S*H to the comedies of Norman Lear.  I need to find the DVDs and catch up.

Recommended Books: Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by Tom Shales &James A. Miller, Life of Python by George Perry, and Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth by Jeff Greenwald.
Rating:  ****

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nana on 18 August 2011 at 10:59 am

    Our building was wired for TV, with the hook-up in the living room – so, I had to go watch the Smothers Brothers on the little rabbit ear TV in my parents’ bedroom while they watched whatever else was on at the same time — I know they made my Dad mad.

    Reply

    • According to the book The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour went head-to-head with Bonanza and even beat it in the ratings a few times, which had never happened before.

      Reply

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