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

4.3 out of 5 stars 116 customer reviews

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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.

Review

"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: 382 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone Simon & Schuster; 1st 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 (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #726,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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By A Customer 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent book on a big part of the 60s culture that does not get its due. The Smothers Brothers do not get enough credit for the huge influence they had on media and politics and just speaking your mind in these years. Great show, great book. I don't believe Tommy went too far with his beliefs.... well maybe for the Smothers Brothers TV career that is true, but in 3 short years CBS brought out All in the Family and I don't think it could have been done without the influence of these guys. A must read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a child of the Sixties (and somehow got through the era totally oblivious to its immense social change,) I've spent my life exploring the impact that the Sixties had on us and American culture. So when I saw this book, and having loved The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, I had to read it. It is an exhaustive analysis of the political and social content of the show, how the Smothers (particularly Tom) were influenced by the world around them, and the controversy that the show caused that lead to the brothers being fired by CBS and the show cancelled. I wanted to love this book. It was instructive and fulfilled my desire to immerse myself in all things Sixties era. But, although the writing is not overly scholarly, it is a long book (367 pages--seems longer.) And it picks apart each and every episode. I can't imagine a casual reader ever wanting to wade through this. I can't imagine even someone who is a Sixties buff wanting to wade through it unless said person had also seen the shows and knew the personalities and politics of those who people the goings-on. I've read countless books about the era that, in my opinion, changed American culture significantly, but they are broader scoped. Only someone who feels like he/she knows Tommy Smothers and can name a few songs that Harry Belafonte sang or can remember Laugh-In or even has an inkling of who Pete Seeger was, etc., would understand and enjoy this book.
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