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Dangerously Funny by David Bianculli
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Dangerously Funny (edition 2009)

by David Bianculli

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1591475,058 (3.78)11
Member:lanewillson
Title:Dangerously Funny
Authors:David Bianculli
Info:Touchstone (2009), Edition: 1, Kindle Edition, 420 pages
Collections:Read, Read but unowned
Rating:****
Tags:history, non-fiction, Comedy

Work details

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" by David Bianculli

Recently added byburnit99, Phosfate, private library, eSusie, recrawfo, lquilter, jztemple, pratalife
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The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour premiered in 1967 and quickly became one of my favorite TV shows. I also credit it with being one of my earliest political influences. This book chronicles the Smothers Brothers origins and how the show began, and the running battles that Tommy had with network brass, who had no intention of adhering to a verbal "hands-off" promise that Tommy swore he extracted from them before signing on. The show was cutting edge for the day, although the troublesome skits and jokes seem innocuous indeed to modern sensibilities. A number of talents launched their careers with the show, including Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. I particularly enjoyed reading about the final and contentious third season, while watching my DVD collection of that season's shows. I'm glad to see the Smothers Brothers' reputation restored these days, and modern humorists and performers giving them their just due. ( )
  burnit99 | Jul 8, 2014 |
If you grew up in the United States, and were born after 1960 or so, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour may be the most significant television program you’ve never heard of.

It ran for only three seasons (1967-1969), but in that time it was television’s premier showcase for up-and-coming musical acts and topical humor. It booked some of the leading musical acts of the late sixties—Donovan, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, and the Who—and broke the 17-year network-television blacklist of folksinger Pete Seeger, but its impact on comedy was even greater. Guided by Tom Smothers, who produced helped to write the show as well as sharing hosting duties with his younger brother Dick, Comedy Hour joked about once-taboo subjects (sex, drugs, religion) and hot-button political issues such as race relations and the Vietnam War. It was something unheard of at the time (and still rare): an entertainment program with a distinct political point-of-view.

The show’s constant pushing of the envelope made battles between the creative staff and the network censors inevitable, and Tom’s combative personality, and fierce commitment to his political principles intensified them. Both the network and the nation acquired new, more conservative presidents during the show’s third and final season, making the battles even more ferocious. CBS eventually won the battle—terminating the brothers’ contract on a flimsy legal pretext—but it lost culture war. The Smothers Brothers became heroes to the young, the educated, and the politically engaged . . . and inspirations for virtually every topical-comedy program that has aired on American television since.

David Bianculi sets out, in Dangerously Funny, to recount the history of the show and make a case for its significance. Both parts work brilliantly. The narrative of the show’s three seasons is meticulously detailed, but the details are carefully chosen to make the case for the Smothers Brothers as powerful, influential voices in a turbulent time. Bianculi writes with the warmth and enthusiasm of a fan, but the discrimination and analytical bent of a cultural historian. He takes care to move beyond “Isn’t it cool that Pete Seeger appeared on the show?” and into why—at that particular moment in 1968—it was revolutionary.

Dangerously Funny is, as a result of Bianculi’s eye for detail and ear for dialogue, not just a great book about a legendary television series—it’s an important contribution to our understanding of America in the 1960s. ( )
  ABVR | Sep 23, 2013 |
I like the Smothers Brothers but not as much and Bianculli appears to, if this book is anything to go by!

I'll admit to not finishing it because there is too much detail. If you want to know every guest, every song and every fight with CBS censors then this is the book for you. Me, I think I'm saving some pennies to buy the complete set of the series on DVD to enjoy each guest, each song and just know in the back of my mind that much of this came at a great cost to Tom and Dick Smothers in their fight to bring political awareness to their audience. Tom in particular fought with his heart and it got dented badly as a result.

Although I was overwhelmed with the detail I did skim a great deal of this and there is some information here and I'm glad I got a chance to look it over. ( )
  bookswoman | Mar 31, 2013 |
Fired not Canceled and other irrelevant distinctions of the Genius Tommy Smothers
I just finished Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” by David Bianculli. It is a wonderful recounting of Tom and Dick Smothers overcoming the death of their father in a POW camp on Bataan, and the revolving door of men in and out of their mother’s life. I laughed and laughed, and Mr. Bianculli does a wonderful job of capturing their rise to fame that at first seemed like as arbitrary and strange as driftwood washed up on a beach. Their self-destruction seems just another of the many vast right wing conspiracy stories that like a chronic drug induced paranoia hang over what is left of the brains many of the 1960’s flower power warriors. Like many, many other examples in their career, they were possibly the first recorded case psychedelic battle fatigue.
Some self-disclosure: From a political standpoint, there in not a single position of Tom and Dick that I know about that I agree with. But I have always loved their humor, and for some reason the Smothers Brothers show is one I actually remember from my early childhood. I was only 6 or 7 when it went off the air.
Politics aside, Tommy was a genius. The caliber of talent Tommy was able to place in front of America over and over and over again was and remains unparalleled. The writers alone included names like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. The Who, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane all appeared on the Smothers Brothers before they were widely known to America and the world. Tommy worked with the greatest straight man, his brother Dick, since Gracie Allen. All of this was fueled and focused by Tommy very real and passionate idealism. Each week Tommy used his persona as a not too bright, but warm hearted little boy whose only desire was to have his mother’s love, trapped in the body of a grown man who took positions each week that put the counter in counter culture – and he killed. KILLED!
The Smothers Brothers went up against the biggest baddest television icon of American independence and grit – Bonanza; and the Smothers Brothers achieved what no one before them had ever done. The Smothers Brothers drew more viewers. This is what makes Tommy’s actions so infuriating and incomprehensible.
Apparently Tommy is allergic to censorship. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to defend CBS standard and practices, the Nixon administration, or even the lemming like mindset of the greatest generation who by this time were in their 40’s and just wanted a century or so of peace after surviving WWII. But Tommy was fighting the wrong battle.
Almost from the start CBS began limiting what he could say, and how he could say it. Over and over again, the anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-conformity present in Tommy’s humor resonated with his audience, and he had the love of the American people to prove it. Rather than using his immense talent to express his ideas in a different way. Knowing CBS would veto a bit with a not too subtle marijuana reference “Tea with Mary Jane”, the name that followed “A Little Tea with Goldie O’Keefe”. It got past the censors, but not the Smothers Brothers audience. With each battle Tommy became more entrenched, and victory with the audience was superseded by Tommy’s demand for a victory with the CBS censors. Tommy’s stubbornness was equivalent to Vincent Van Gogh demanding praise from the blind.
Ultimately, Tommy was not the loser, but rather the American people. In the arena of ideas the best idea does not always win. Look no further than the words our own Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, an idea that was almost immediately vanquished in constitution that did not outlaw slavery. Tommy had the chance to elevate the ideas being discussed in his day, and he missed it. Satire by its very nature is subversive, but Tommy became more interested in preaching about the hypocrisy of the censors. Yell at a fat man about his obesity, and he will remain fat. Make him chase you and like or not, his physical condition will improve.
From the moment CBS took the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour off the air, and to this day, Tommy has argued with all his might that the show was not canceled, but that he and Dick were fired. A federal court would later agree with Tommy. But the Vietnam war continued for five more years, Nixon was elected to a second term before endangering our republic and disgracing his office, and Tommy’s ideas, censored or not, were no longer in front of a massive American audience.
Tommy is certainly not to blame for these events. But there is a cliché of note which says that a rising tide lifts all boats Had his ideas remained in the American arena now known as “the ‘60’s” it may have been enough to raise us past these outcomes. Sadly, all we know for sure is that Tom and Dick Smothers were fired and not canceled. ( )
  lanewillson | Dec 1, 2012 |
When I was young I discovered records by The Smothers Brothers in my family records collections and became a fan of their witty interpretations of folk music classics. I even went to see them perform live one time and was sorely disappointed by what felt like a phoned-in performance. The show was days after The Gulf War began in 1991 and since I knew the Smothers Brothers' tv show was notoriously anti-war during the Vietnam era and expected some commentary on the contemporary situation but there was none to be had.

Well, I can't explain that bad show but after reading Bianculli's book I've learned much about their great show that aired for three seasons on CBS in the the late 1960s. The first thing I learned is that the Smothers Brothers are unlike their onstage personas. Tommy Smothers, the dumb brat in the act is actually the brains behind it all. Bianculli depicts Tom as a keen talent scout giving young musicians tv exposure before they had mainstream appeal and hiring great comedians and writers (many of the musicians, comedians, and writers would go on to greater fame). It was also Tommy who would lead the fight against network censors to who tried to squelch political and anti-war speech in the show. While the network censorship battles are detailed with all the gory details and seem unfair (and often absurd due to how tame the Smother Brothers show seems in retrospect), Bianculli also show that Tom Smother over-earnest desire to fight fanned the flames of the show's demise.

Each episode is described in detail with Bianculli emphasizing the innovation, stand-out performances, and counter-cultural undertones of the shows. The backstage story is also rollicking with humorous anecdotes of multiple generations of entertainers working on the show. The show didn't last long but its legacy remains. Bianculli credits the Smothers Brothers with laying the groundwork for innovative shows of the 1970s from Saturday Night Live to M*A*S*H to the comedies of Norman Lear. I need to find the DVDs and catch up. ( )
  Othemts | Aug 18, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Most of “Dangerously Funny” is easygoing and informative, with Bianculli serving as a friendly but authoritative guide. He does not set your brain on fire with his perceptions or his prose, but he makes apt comparisons, and he has good taste. As the book should be reaching its climax, however, his narrative plods along, as if he had grown weary of tracking all the inter­office memos flying back and forth between his subjects and the CBS bosses who fired them when they were still bringing in good numbers.
 
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To Tom and Dick Smothers, for their trust, their cooperation, and especially their patience
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"Dangerously Funny" presents a rollicking history of the rise and fall of the wildly influential '60s TV show, and it's lasting influence on the cultural landscape.

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