Political Humor Break

The Smothers Brothers

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, airing on CBS from 1967 to 1969, is arguably the most important program in the history of political humor on television. Launched as a midseason replacement in February 1967 by CBS, desperate to make a dent in the ratings of the NBC powerhouse Bonanza, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour began as a standard variety show starring two musician/comedian brothers best known for their repertoire of traditional folk songs and harmless banter, most notably Tommy Smothers's petulant outburst at his brother Dick that "Mom always liked you best."  


Political Humor Break CONTINUES...

However, the brothers were politically awakened during the tumultuous summer of 1967, and the show soon took on an identity reflecting their new social consciousness. In the fall of 1967, for example, the brothers booked folk singer Pete Seeger, who had been blacklisted from prime-time TV in the fifties for being identified as a Communist sympathizer; Seeger's performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," an original composition lamenting America's involvement in Vietnam, was axed by the network, the beginning of a series of fierce content battles eventually leading to the show's cancellation, in 1969. The first of two clips presented here, from a 1967 show, features Tommy, Dick, and guest George Segal performing "The Draft-Dodger Rag"; the second clip, from a 2003 Paley Center seminar titled Satire or Sacrilege?: Social and Political Commentary on Television, features an argument between Dick Smothers and neoconservative writer/commentator John Podhoretz over the meaning of the word "subversive."

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