The Smothers Brothers are hilarious; it’s their job and they’re great at it. Always have been and will be again tonight.The brother act returns to the Gerald Ford Amphitheater after too many years away.”We need some good laughs,” said Tom Smothers in a telephone interview.Time has been an essential ingredient in the Smothers Brothers’ success. They have been considered ahead of their time, masters of timing and practitioners of timeless comedy.The last time they were here, they played in the Jerry Ford Invitational golf tournament. They were hilarious then, too.Time doesn’t change the good stuff.”We’re the last living comedy team; been at it for 46 years. Dick says it’s like an old marriage: Lots of fighting and no sex,” said Tom. “This is the tenuous balance of two people vying for the attention of an audience.
“Add the audience, it’s a three-way conversation. That can get wonderfully complex.”The Smothers Brothers’ first professional appearance was at The Purple Onion in San Francisco in 1959 and their first national television appearance was on the Jack Paar show on January 28, 1961.They started in school choirs, a couple bands, then followed the Kingston Trio into folk music, sort of. Actually, it was a musical comedy act. If something works, you stay with it. Forty-six years later, the act is still fresh.”We didn’t think we’d even be alive, let alone performing,” said Tom. “We heard from one man who said he really enjoyed the show, but he wished we’d finish just one song.”If we did, people probably wouldn’t want to hear it any more.”For more than four decades, their audiences have wanted to hear nothing but more. The Smothers Brothers starred in their own primetime comedy series in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and made guest appearances on numerous television programs. They’ve headlined countless engagements as headliners in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, a hot-selling video, 12 top-selling albums, as well as continuous coast-to coast concert tours, some with symphony orchestras.Their first Colorado appearance was 1971 at the Limelight in Snowmass. Colorado brought them back for a reunion of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the USA Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. Their show is now studied in universities for its contributions to the cultural changes of the 1960s. But mostly because it’s funny, and funny is hard.
Straight is goodLike all the classic comedy teams, the straight man is the key – “the truth,” Tommy calls his brother, Dick, who’s younger by 22 months. Tom says the straight man is like the bass player in a band, providing the tempo and setting the pace.”Without Lou Abbott, Bud Costello looks like a fool. But together they work,” said Tom.By studying the masters like Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy, they learned that the straight man does most of the talking. The funny guy pops out a punchline then basically takes another break. Dick even narrates a charming and funny 12 minute video, chronicling the brothers from childhood to about now.”I’ve got a lot of free time on stage,” joked Tom. “It’s a real good job. I don’t have to sweat much.”They didn’t do social commentary until Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Johnson and Nixon are still Tom’s favorite presidents. Current President Bush is a “little scary” and Clinton material can be tough to work into a family show (which Tom says is the only kind they do). They use no profanity, except for one classic routine in which Tom makes up words that sound suspiciously Spanish, responding to Dick with, “El toro crappo.” That translates to euphemistically, “you’re full of it.”
“It’s very soft. You can bring your kids,” said Tom.After laughing with them through the evening, you’ll know where they stand, but little of their material these days is political.The same was true in “those days,” as well, although the thin-skinned CBS censors didn’t agree. “They used to tell us, ‘You can’t say that.’ We weren’t sure what we’d said, but when we were told we couldn’t say it, we knew it must be something important.”CBS pulled the plug on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1969, after three and a half seasons. Tom observed that in all years since, none of the networks have aired a variety show that provides any sort of commentary. The Smothers Brothers still carry a reputation as comedy social commentators, which, says Tom, is a little like saying the guy who starred as Festus in “Gunsmoke” can only act in roles that require a limp.Much of their routine is built around repartee with impeccable timing, and physical comedy (no limping). Tom, an avid golfer, decided the game needed an added feature: The yo-yo. He’s the only golfer known who can sink a put with the popular toy.The video retrospective of their career is a continuing feature present in every show. It ends with, “We’re still here!”Thank goodness. And may they keep coming back.