The Smothers vs. the System

To get their jokes past their network's censors, Dick and Tom Smothers resorted to subterfuge.

The Smothers Brothers perform on their instruments

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FromThe Brothers Smothers, Tom and Dick” by George Fox, in the September 23, 1967, issue of The Saturday Evening Post

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is easily the most irreverent show on television. Besides subtly criticizing U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the brothers have touched on such taboo (for “popular” TV) subjects as narcotics, homosexuality, and race prejudice. They’ve burlesqued American heroes from George Washington to Lindbergh, portraying the latter as a deranged mechanic who made it from New York to Paris by taking periodic sniffs from a tube of model-airplane glue.

Their barbs are often aimed merely for the sheer delight of seeing how much they can slip past the CBS censorship board, but there is sometimes method in their madness. They will insert something blatantly offensive in a script, knowing that the censors will come close to swooning when they read it; then, grudgingly, the brothers will submit as a substitute the material they really want.

Take this dialogue, banned from their Easter show:

Dick: Tommy, today is Easter Sunday. Do you know what Easter is actually all about?

Tom: Sure. It’s the day Jesus Christ rose from his tomb —

Dick: That’s right. I’m proud of you. I honestly didn’t think you knew.

Tom: — and if he sees his shadow, he has to go back in again for six weeks.

After hours of feigned protest, the brothers agreed to cut this blasphemy. Instead, Dick appeared alone and announced, “We have a special guest with us tonight. The person most in our hearts at Eastertime. Someone who loves little children, and who said, ‘Seek and ye shall find.’ Here he is.”

Tom Smothers dresses before a taping of The Smother Brothers
Too shocking? Pre-performance tension grips Tommy Smothers. CBS would yank the controversial show in 1969. (© SEPS)

Then Tom came on stage wearing an Easter Bunny suit.

“We were trying to comment on the fact that most people never think about the religious significance of holidays like Easter,” Dick recalls. “I guess we were right. We got only one protest about the Bunny bit — from the commander of a Salvation Army post. But a couple of weeks before, when we did a completely double-talk editorial about the mail-order-weapon controversy, more than 10,000 gun nuts wrote in to complain.”

First page of the article, "The Brothers Smothers, Tom and Dick."
Read “The Brothers Smothers, Tom and Dick” by George Fox from the September 23, 1967, issue of the Post.

This article is featured in the November/December 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Phillip Harrington / Alamy Stock Photo

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Comments

  1. The Brothers did a song called “I Yelled ‘Fire!’ When I Fell into the Chocolate”: “Why did you yell ‘Fire!’ when you fell into the chocolate?” “Because nobody would come to help me if I just yelled ‘Chocolate!'”

  2. I loved Dicky and Tommy. P.C. culture was in it’s pre-infancy, No social media, no right wing fear mongering. I laughed my ass off at all their (the brothers), skits and jokes. None of their material bothered me….. and I was in the Marines during their ‘reign of terror’ at CBS. Gee, how did we ever get along with only three networks? I recognized and enjoyed their satire and prickly humor.

    I miss those days.

    President Biden is a good worthy president, but if Pat Paulsen had run against him, I would have been sore pressed, not to vote for Pat. God bless the USA.

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