An American Classic
The Smothers Brothers haven't lost their charm.
By Jamie Schmidt
JUNE 26, 2000: It's been 33 years since The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour made its debut, airing after The Ed Sullivan Show, and it's been 31 years since the show was canceled by CBS. Math aside, comedic cut-ups Tom (the one with the yo-yo) and Dick are still entertaining.
"We are a vaudeville act -- one of the last comedy teams around," says Tom Smothers. "There are a few old songs we do, and there is Yo-Yo Man, but we are bringing new things to the show people seem to like: snapshots of ourselves as babies and growing up, along with some other surprises. People will be impressed with the show. We keep changing it so we don't bore ourselves."
Tom and Dick still banter like they did in their days in the national limelight, back in the mid-1960s. Tom swears the bickering is almost all an act.
"There is always a little squabbling, but we're brothers and we like each other or we wouldn't have done this for 42 years," says Tom.
The Smothers act, a combination of folk songs and comedic sibling rivalry, juxtaposed Dick the "straight" brother against Tom the onstage cunning-yet-slow brother. Tom's attempts at folk songs were always fumbled. Tom's favorite punch line, "Mom liked you best," always brought laughs. But their seemingly harmless comedic act, especially by today's standards, was removed by CBS at the end of the 1968-69 season for its controversial politics and off-color material.
"The Smother Brothers was always holding on by its fingertips," says Tom. "But it has been the greatest experience -- the confidence it took to make it. The thing to do in show business is not be fearful. You've got to take risks and chances."
Even when the brothers' show was removed from CBS, Tom and Dick managed to keep working, appearing in nightclubs and commercials. Although at times their enthusiasm level waned, the brothers' commitment to the act never faltered.
"It's the only job in the world where you're only as good as your last show," says Tom. "As a comedian, I feel great onstage. The best time is when you get that great immediate reaction. And the worse thing is when you don't get the reaction you want. Then you want to shoot yourself."
The Museum of Broadcasting in New York produced a Smothers Brothers retrospective and a seminar on their work, and they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Now, after half their lives in the business, Tom, 63, and Dick, 60, are beginning to slow down.
"We're more selective now," Tom says. "We do about 50 dates a year. We used to do 200 shows, so we are slowing down some and getting to spend more time at home."
Today, Tom and Dick pursue their personal interests with the same fervor as their work. The brothers divide their spare time between their families and the Smothers Renich Ridge winery, which Dick started in 1977 and where they invented "Mom's Favorite Red" and "Mom's Favorite White."
"Dick has introduced me to most everything I am interested in -- boating, wine -- outside of show business," says Tom.
Offstage, Dick can be found honing his skills on the tennis court or cooking up gourmet meals in the kitchen. Tom's passion is golf. His game is good enough to a allow him in various pro-am tournaments. Tom also brings a little something extra to the course: his trusty yo-yo, making him perhaps the only golfer who can sink a putt with the toy.
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