Smothers Brothers Mark 50 Years of Being Fired by CBS

Network wanted to censor antiwar, political bits
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 29, 2019 7:13 PM CDT
Smothers Brothers Mark 50 Years of Being Fired by CBS
The Smothers Brothers, Tom Smothers, left, and Dick Smothers in 2002.   (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)

Getting fired from work isn't usually a cause to celebrate. But the Smothers Brothers aren't your run-of-the-mill comedians. The duo has stepped out of retirement to commemorate the day 50 years ago when CBS canceled their show over their political impudence. Tom and Dick Smothers—ages 80 and 82 respectively—reunited Monday for several appearances at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York. "It's really an honor to be honored in this way," Tom Smothers told the AP on Sunday. "At least we're both alive and not having someone speak for us. We can mumble our own way through." The two discussed their firing in an onstage discussion and later unveiled a display of archival material they donated to the center, including their iconic red suit jackets, Tom's guitar and Dick's bass, scripts and creative papers, and legal documents.

"People come up to us and say, 'We love you guys. I wish you were on television now,'" Tom Smothers recalled. "It's a different world today." CBS yanked The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in April 1969 because of their persistent and humorous opposition to the Vietnam War, support of civil rights and tweaking of authority. They resisted censorship. The brothers weren't allowed to use the phrase "sex education" or joke that someone was "a known heterosexual." "The funny thing is, I look back at those things. They're so benign, but at the time they were volatile," Dick Smothers said. The brothers won a breach of contract lawsuit, and CBS had to pay. Many comedians see their influence in such envelope-pushing performers as George Carlin and Bill Maher. Tom Smothers is proud of that legacy but points out that wasn't the plan. "We didn't do it intentionally. No guy goes to war and takes a bullet on purpose," he said. "You have a mission to do."

(More comedian stories.)

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