Note: Be sure to go to the 2009 NPR interview with Terry Gross, author of Dangerously Funny, THE UNCENSORED STORY OF "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR"
From Wikipedia: In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the brothers frequently appeared on television variety shows and issued several popular record albums of their stage performances. Their own television variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, became one of the most controversial American TV programs of the Vietnam War era.
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We are going back to the future...but has anything changed?
Does anyone besides me remember laughing at the Smother's Brothers AND totally supporting their rants once a week? Honestly, in that era of war and "anyone over 30 years is the enemy" and bra burning, the Smothers Brothers were the voice of the liberal young people in America and anyone that opposed President Lyndon Johnson's actions on the Vietnam War. I honestly loved that show.
So, when the "establishment" and President Johnson went after the show on CBS forcing the network to fire the brothers, those of us that thought that maybe the show might make a difference in history lost our innocence. In a book called Dangerously Funny, The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour", David Bianculli tells the story that those of you that didn't live through those time need to hear. I think I will buy it for my reference library.
In an NPR interview in 2009 on Fresh Air the background for the book looked like this.
From 1967 to 1969, Tommy and Dick Smothers challenged the censors at CBS and the political establishment who tried to tame their wildly popular -- and politically left-leaning -- show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The brothers lost their show, but later won a battle in court.In an excerpt from the book, David Bianculli wrote:
Think of the Smothers Brothers as a pop-culture Grapes of Wrath. When Michael Moore takes his time in the spotlight during a live Oscar telecast to scold President George W. Bush for sending America to war without due cause, the Smothers Brothers, in spirit, are there. When the Dixie Chicks make an anti-Bush comment onstage and suffer a backlash from conservatives before reemerging triumphantly with a new hit and a slew of Grammy Awards, the Smothers Brothers are there.The protest against Vietnam were everywhere and the Smother's Brothers fed the fire of descent.
That show that aired 51 years ago was an epic pot stirrer. The affect was stunning. See, the Smother's Brothers was not late night TV and those that watched were not people that were willing to stay up until midnight to get their laughs. We did not have recording devises so it was a routine thing to watch them during prime time. In fact, I don't really think anyone like them had ever been unafraid to say what they honestly thought. The nation lost something very precious to that era when it was cancelled.
Have things changed? Can you get away with saying anything about politics or rile the president up without being fired, or taken off the air? Not really. Even though there have been court battles, Tommy Smothers observed that he didn't see much difference between today and if they were given a shows he said he didn't "...think we could say anything more than we did back then."
So, when Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien teamed up to take a swipe at Trump, I had a flash back to 1969. Have things changed that much? Has Twitter made it unnecessary to protect Trump because of his words describing the TV hosts? I don't know. Taking it too far will still cause a problem. But how far is that? We well see. Because if the line is the same as it was back in 1969, they need to be very careful.
What do you think? I am interested.
Note: I hear people snickering about Woodstock and Burn Baby Burn. I can tell you right now, I did not think it was funny and still don't. It was a very revolutionary time and it was not easy.
I am 65, and seconding you in the thought that the 60's were a time that wasn't easy - not at all, not when the two boys who grew up with me next door both went off to Viet Nam (both survived) and when riots overtook my high school and some one lobbed a tear gas canister into my classroom...good times, not. But, returning to the topic at hand. I loved the Smothers Brothers. It's hard to explain to people who didn't grow up then just how dangerous it was for them to skirt that "fine line of the censors". I do think things have changed. On TV it's been obvious that comics like Trevor Noah have been censored (I'm thinking, in particular, of one extremely terrible/bad-taste running comment Noah made regarding the relationship of Trump and his oldest daughter, that suddenly one day he wasn't saying that anymore.) It didn't get him fired, but it certainly got him censored. I think if Colbert (and I watched his Comedy Central show for years, but haven't watched his late night show for the last few months) had been around in 1969 he would have been kicked off the air many months ago. Meanwhile for the general public, it's easy to hide behind a social media identity and issue death threats towards people you don't agree with, or say the most horrible things. It really makes you wonder about free speech, and how far it should go, and I have no easy answers.ReplyDelete