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Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" Hardcover – December 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tom and Dick Smothers had confrontations with CBS censors when they did their satirical television series from 1967 to 1969. To write this authoritative and entertaining examination of a comedic cornerstone, TV critic Bianculli (Teleliteracy) interviewed scores of producers and performers. He reveals what went on behind the cameras and also probes the generational, artistic, and moral duels being fought in the '60s. He opens with the childhood of the brothers (and sister) when their father became a WWII POW fatality. After high school and college bands, the brothers rode the folk music wave into San Francisco's Purple Onion, switched to comedy at Aspen, and recorded their debut comedy album in 1960, exploding into fame on Jack Paar's Tonight show. After the failure of their 1965–1966 CBS sitcom, they went full throttle when their variety series, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, began taping in 1967, pushing boundaries musically, comically, satirically, politically and courting controversy. They strove for topicality while CBS scrambled to avoid it: For CBS, almost every mention of religion, sex, drugs, politics, and war was anathema. Reviewing each episode, entire sketches and individual gag lines, the book probes internal battles, with Tom Smothers fighting censors, executives, affiliates, and increasingly his own managers and staff members. Documenting each event that led to the show's cancellation, he concludes this entertaining and well-researched bio with the duo's huge influence on today's TV troublemakers and iconoclasts. (Dec. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"It is hard for many of us to remember--back when there were only a handful of stations on the dial--just how profoundly influential and controversial the Smothers Brothers were. But David Bianculli's brilliant new book has brought it all back to vivid life. ...This is a superb, at times moving, portrait of an entire age -- seen through the dramatic careers of two endlessly interesting entertainers." -- Ken Burns, Filmmaker

"David's book documents a true prime-time crime caper pulled off forty years ago. The perpetrators got away. The Smothers Brothers and the American viewing audience paid the price. As another old saying goes, 'Freedom is a dangerous way of life.' It was ours -- and thanks to David, this is our story."-- Mason Williams, writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1 edition (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439101167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439101162
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #706,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Bianculli has been a television critic for more than thirty years, currently on NPR's "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" and his own website, He is the author of two books on television and its impact: "Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously" and "Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses, and Events," as well as 2010's "Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.'" Bianculli is also a professor at Rowan University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By J. Whitney on December 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think I must have seen every episode of that show as a kid growing up and this behind the scenes look is fascinating. The author covers pretty much every episode their creation and evolution, and interviews many of the participants, many of whom went on to famous careers themselves. Steve Martin. Rob Reiner. And of course Pat Paulsen. I had never realized that the Bob Einstein who played "Officer Judy" and now haunts "Curb Your Enthusiam" is Albert Brooks' brother. Tommy Smothers is particularly fascinating when you see how he was the driving force behind the show and realize just how sharp he is compared to the character he played. Even if you weren't a big fan, this book also takes a look at a key transition in American culture as the show manages to straddle the traditional while making way for a new era. So many famous bands had their beginnings there. The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield. By the end, even the Beatles were guests. It made me miss the days of one television, 3 channels, and the whole family having to watch the same thing, especially when I got to snicker at the jokes that were targeted at my generation and going over the head of my parents. What's sad is when you pull your head out of this book and look at the endless prattle of today's reality television and realize we can never return to this level of creativity just because of the economics of television. Great stuff.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on December 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Although the biography primarily focuses on the famous TV show that nuked the then boundaries of television, there is more to this solid look at this groundbreaking show. David Bianculli opens with a section on the childhood and early steps of the brothers entering the entertainment world until their key appearance on the Jack Paar show. However, it is the deep look into each show and the battles with CBS and with other members of the show over what can be said or used on the air that makes this a fascinating biography. Finally the ultimate tribute to Tom and Dick Smothers besides bios like this one is how far they opened TV with current satire that tore into the establishment. The show was killed in its third season in 1969, but Mr. Bianculli makes a strong case that its influence remains stratospheric today in Stewart, Colbert and Maher.

Harriet Klausner
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Karen A. Nichols on December 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Smother's Brothers were what the country needed and the types that are still vital to our lives. It's called honesty. The network executives without the back bones or balls to weather the storm are the ones to blame for removing them from the airwaves.

Anytime you have networks who live for the perks from the politicians who live for the perks from the lobbyists....well, you know the drill.

The Story is good and honest, thank you for letting me grow up being forced to think, not follow like a sheep.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First off, kudos to David Bianculli for his outstanding way with words, a style that's reader friendly, never affectatious. He's also incredibly accurate in DANGEROUSLY FUNNY, a carefully researched book on the Smothers Brothers' lives and groundbreaking TV variety series. I only noticed a few errors or omissions, all quite trivial.

ERRORS: A mention of Tom sneaking "bosom of America" into their "Cabbage" routine after CBS wouldn't allow mention of "breast" elsewhere, doesn't reflect that he was using this joke in their stage act prior to 1967. The Monterey Pop Festival of 6/16-18, 1967 is cited as "smack in the middle of the summer of love" when it was really at the end of spring (trivial, like I said).

OMISSIONS: The choir singing a love definition in one guest spot isn't credited to composer Bob Dorough and his "5 Definitions of Love," which appeared on the first Spanky and Our Gang album. In describing Tommy being around while Mason Williams created "Classical Gas," an instrumental piece that peaked at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100, we are never told that when Mason asked Tom's opinion of the song, he replied that it was too busy, had "too many notes." Again, no big deal.

Tom and Dick Smothers are well-chronicled here, from childhood to their early days as a folk trio (three Smothers Brothers?), to their MERCURY Records successes, appearances on TV, their own show, which ran a rocky course for three seasons, and beyond. It's an always fascinating story, thanks to the skill and efforts of author Bianculli.

I love the behind the scenes detail that DANGEROUSLY FUNNY contains, and its nuggets of trivia.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By DDSC on April 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was a big fan of the Smothers Brothers and I loved their show. This book was a great look back at some fun times, but also some gut-wrenching times for Americans. The Smothers Brothers were courageous for taking a stand. They paid a big price for that stand. A more recent incident of this was the Dixie Chicks who also spoke their mind and paid the price. Sad to say America seemed to be more tolerant in the 60s than today. Recommend this work highly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Julia Brantley on May 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Mom always liked you best!" Tom Smothers would whine to his brother Dick, onstage during their late `60s variety show, never failing to get a laugh. Playing idiot to his brother's suave persona, "Tommy" Smothers came off as a bumbling comedian who held a lifelong grudge.
David Bianculli reveals the truth behind the jokes in chronicling the rise and demise of one of the most innovative and independent television series in American history in Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Those of us who watched the show in the late 60's will appreciate the stroll down memory lane in the litany of guest stars and bits that the brothers aired. Tom Smothers' slow-minded stage persona disguised a savvy, cutting-edge talent scout who could seamlessly blend aging vaudeville stars such as Jimmy Durante, George Burns, Jack Benny and the like with up-and-coming acts including Sonny and Cher, The Turtles, and a lesser-known British Invasion band simply entitled The Who.
Music/entertainment buffs will love this episode-by-episode narrative, drawing the reader into television history as the Comedy Hour knocked the epic "Bonanza" out of the reigning #1 viewing slot, as well as defining moments in music - such as the time The Who blew up Keith Moon's drum kit onstage and gave Bette Davis such a fright that she fainted offstage.
Bianculli zeros in on the memos and discussions furiously exchanged as Tom Smothers engaged in a long-running feud with the CBS censors over content. Ever critical of the Vietnam war, the brothers used their Sunday night show as a forum for their beliefs and those of their generation.
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