National Comedy Center Reunites the Smothers Brothers to Discuss Comedy and Censorship on 50th Anniversary of Network TV Firing


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National Comedy Center

The legendary Smothers Brothers, the most enduring comedy duo in history, were reunited on stage this week – for the first time in nine years – as they engaged in a wide-ranging interview presented by the National Comedy Center at Chautauqua Institution on Monday, July 29. Marking the 50 th anniversary year of their firing by CBS, Tom and Dick Smothers reflected on their career, their landmark TV show “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” comedy and censorship, and the importance of the First Amendment – both 50 years ago and today, in a discussion moderated by NPR “Fresh Air” TV critic David Bianculli, who authored an acclaimed book about the Smothers Brothers and their network TV show.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday afternoon at the National Comedy Center, the Smothers Brothers unveiled a display of archival material they donated to the National Comedy Center, including their iconic red suit jackets, Tom’s guitar and Dick’s bass, scripts and creative papers, a letter from President Lyndon Johnson which was read by the Smothers Brothers on their TV show, as well as legal documents from their landmark 1970s litigation against CBS in defense of their First Amendment rights.

“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” debuted in 1967 and quickly became a counter-cultural lightning rod, setting enduring First Amendment precedents that altered the course of comedy history. With their irreverent humor and singular blend of comedic and musical talent, the Brothers satirized politics, combated racism, and protested the Vietnam War, while pushing the boundaries of what was considered permissible on network television. Despite their tremendous popularity, CBS fired the Smothers Brothers due to political pressure in April 1969. This year marks the 50th  anniversary of their wrongful firing, which was litigated in the precedent-setting censorship case Smothers Brothers v. ColumbiaBroadcasting System, Inc.

“We are honored to bring Tom and Dick Smothers back to the stage after nine years, as we celebrate their extraordinary career and showcase important artifacts from their archives at the National Comedy Center,” stated Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director. “‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’ was a major milestone and an inflection point for comedy – influencing generations of comedy creators. We look forward to sharing the Smothers Brothers’ important story and preserving it for future generations.”

“The National Comedy Center is an incredible cultural institution. Until now, comedy was never considered serious art, and it is serious art,” stated Tom Smothers. “Laughter is being honored in this museum and we are so glad to be a part of it.”

“My brother and I are truly honored to be included in the National Comedy Center,” stated Dick Smothers. “This is the most unique museum in the entire world.”

The Smothers Brothers were the special guests for the first day of a comedy-themed week entitled “What’s Funny?” at the world-renowned Chautauqua Institution, July 29 – August 2, programmed in partnership with the National Comedy Center, which will be followed by the National Comedy Center’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown, NY, August 7 through 11.

About the Smothers Brothers

Tom and Dick Smothers, the groundbreaking Smothers Brothers, are the most enduring comedy duo in history, having performed together professionally since 1959.

Tom and Dick Smothers were born 22 months apart in New York City, and raised by their mother in Southern California. They attended San Jose State University, where they were exposed to a growing folk music scene. With Tom performing on acoustic guitar and Dick on stand-up bass, they developed a unique act that incorporated comedy banter and folk songs.

Their first professional appearance at the Purple Onion in San Francisco in 1959 led to appearances at night clubs throughout the country. In the early 1960s, they made their first national television appearance on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show” and recorded the first of twelve top-selling albums.

“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” vaulted the brothers to national celebrity and was awarded the 1968 Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical or Variety Series (40 years later, in 2008, Tom Smothers was belatedly recognized with an individual Emmy Award for his significant contributions to television history). Following their sudden termination by CBS, the Smothers Brothers performed in dinner theater across the country, starred on Broadway and toured their live musical comedy act for more than three decades, including acclaimed performances at the Chautauqua Institution and Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown. They retired from public performance in 2010.