Category Archives: Comedy



Andrew Dice Clay, comedian and patron saint of political incorrectness, plans to re-conquer the comedy world, one show at a time.



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February 23, 2012

In a meteoric career rise, Andrew Dice Clay parlayed a 1988 show-stealing performance on a televised Rodney Dangerfield special into sold-out tours of arenas across the country. A short two years later, he became the only comic to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights consecutively, an accomplishment he remains very proud of to this day. That was also the year that “Saturday Night Live” cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O’Connor refused to appear on the show the night Clay hosted the program. Dice’s popularity reached rock-star proportions, but also attracted criticism that his act was misogynistic, racist, and homophobic. TV appearances and a feature film followed, but his popularity began to ebb several years later. His newfound status was not something he handled gracefully. He would sometimes threaten to walk out of an interview, as he did on CNN in 2003, when asked about his career going downhill and about his alleged job managing a gym. Dice responded angrily, “This is ridiculous. I come on CNN and the guy doesn’t even know what he’s talkin’ about . . . Jesus f***ing Christ! Every time I do an interview, a guy wants to open his mouth. Can’t even do a little f***in’ routine here. You know what? Go f*** yourself. Go f*** the whole f***in’ network!” as he stormed off the set. (Visit to check out the fun.)

In recent years, Clay has appeared frequently on the Howard Stern radio show and in a cameo role on HBO’s “Entourage” in 2011, all of which has led to his latest comedy tour. We reached Dice recently for a few comments in advance of his Birmingham show.

Black & White: During the 1990 Madison Square Garden sold out shows, I’ve never seen a comic who had the audience in the palm of his hand like you did. They were reciting the jokes word for word.
Playin’ the arenas was really exciting and overwhelming at the same time. The Garden was great, but compared to other shows at other arenas, it was even calm. I sold out every major arena. I did that for about five years. The Garden is the most famous, but in Chicago, I sold [the arena] out five times. I mean, I used to go into these places and do 60,000–80,000 a people a weekend.

It has been rumored that, in the early stages of your career, some comedy clubs called the police to have you arrested.
Not in the clubs, but when I was doing the arenas—I’ll never forget—when I came to Cleveland, Ohio, and all of a sudden, my dressing room was just full of police laying down the law to me, [saying] “If anybody complains, you’re goin’ to jail.” I go, “Well, aren’t these all fans comin’ to see what I do? You tell me what you don’t want me to say, and I won’t say it. As long as I step on that stage, I collect my check.” I was like, what year are we living in?

Do you foresee a return to your heyday?
Well, no, but things are really starting to escalate again. After the success of “Entourage,” I packed a Brooklyn ball park—on a rainy 40-degree night. It was amazing. I am preparing to do a New Year’s Eve special for Showtime. That special will absolutely, hands down, show why I call myself the Undisputed King of Comedy. I mean, I will leave no doubt as to who is the rock star comic in this world. You know, it’s what I do and it’s what I’m great at.

Some people are O.K. at their jobs, but I’m a one-of-a-kind performer. When you call yourself [the Undisputed King of Comedy], and with what I’ve done in the past, it’s almost like a heavyweight fighter getting in the ring one more time. I always had this thing about never giving up, proving what you’re made out of, and my career has been a bumpy road. I’ve had awful marriages and because of that, I raised my own kids. And that’s beautiful. I had to back off for a decade as far as career moves because I had to raise them—which I wouldn’t change for the world—but now it’s time to prove that I’m the champion again.

So, I’m already in rehearsal. Every night I go on stage, every word means every thing to me. You know, a lot of comedians, they just don’t understand. They all want to be big superstars, but they don’t understand what it really takes to thrill the world. That’s why I always study rock stars, not comedians. Comedians, most of ‘em, they know nothing about performance. That’s why it gets boring when you watch a comic after five minutes. I studied all that stuff; it’s what I was about growing up. It was about everybody from Elvis to Led Zeppelin to Sly Stallone to John Travolta to James Dean to Muhammad Ali to Joe Namath—gigantic personalities.

They knew how to thrill the world. Not just with what they were capable of doing in the ring or on the football field, but also the way they would speak to the public. It came naturally, you know what I mean? There’s a million comics trying to be what Dice is, but this is what God gave me to do, this is my gift. &

Andrew Dice Clay is appearing at the Stardome Comedy Club on Tuesday, February 28, 6:30 p.m. Tickets and information: (205) 444-0008 or visit

Bill Cosby, Himself

Bill Cosby, Himself

Cosby discusses turning the other cheek to hecklers and why he resisted the temptation to use profanity in his act.


January 20, 2011

When comedian Bill Cosby answers the phone, his response to a reporter’s greeting of “Mr. Cosby?” for verification, is a playful grumble: “No! This is George Roofles!” before breaking into his slow, wiseass Cosby chuckle: “Heh, heh, heh!” One is never quite sure when Cosby is being playful and when he is genuinely irritated. He speaks in a deliberate cadence he has made his own, slightly stretching out some syllables when not pausing between every other word to get his point across. Cosby is not the easiest person with whom to hold a conversation, but thankfully he answers with engaging, thoughtful responses. When asked if he has ever dealt with hecklers, he simply replies, “Yeah, yeah.” As I waited several seconds for him to elaborate, he suddenly interjects, “There are two of us talking here, so you’re going to have to say something. You asked me about the hecklers, The answer is ‘Yes.’ What do you want to know?” Wow, I was being reprimanded by “the Coz.” Bill Cosby will appear at the BJCC Concert Hall on Saturday, February 5, at 8 p.m. Tickets: $25–$65. Details:, 458-8400.

Black & White: Tell me about the early days when you were a struggling comic.
Cosby: I decided to leave Temple University and to go out for a year to test and see what would happen to me. I got favorable reviews from people who had seen me in different venues around the city of Philadelphia. So I went up to this club at 116 MacDougal Street [in Greenwich Village] called the Gaslight, which had a reputation for having classy entertainment and folk music. In those days there was no comedy club. Plus, there was no profanity. Dick Gregory had come along, it was about 1963. This booker for what they called Negro comics was there. So I brought my storytelling and auditioned and the guy said, “Well, you’re a little raw, but we’ll hire you.” I don’t know that I even had a day off, and I got $60 a week. I want you know that I’m the first old person to say, “And that was not a lot of money!” You hear a lot of old people go, “And that was a lot of money in those days.” Noooooo! By the time I cleaned up that room they gave me—which I’m very thankful for—I had spent close to $60 on mops and stuff to clean and make it look good. I showered without a shower. I used the restroom at the club to take a bath. I started at eight o’clock at night and worked ’til four in the morning, working between the folk singers.

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How did you deal with hecklers?
After being upset with people, I just decided to go in another direction and not fool with them. Because, you get angry with these people and you start a vocal argument. And many times, for some weird reason, the audience sees you become angry and after a while it has changed the aura in the room. It’s difficult for you to get back to the image that you’re a fun person, even though it wasn’t your fault. But then again, it was your fault because it’s also the entertainer’s job not to lose it. I’ll give you an example. I was at Lake Tahoe in the late ’60s. I already had the mindset that when people wanted to interrupt to say things, the first thing is to understand what they are saying, and then respond as if you were really interested in what a person was saying. When you listen to that, many times if you stay linear with it, you can get rid of ‘em post haste. So I walked out onstage, had on a brown leather suit, and the shoes I had on were high-tops and had sort of like a dark brown mustard color. It was a midnight show, so the people have a chance to medicate themselves with alcohol. The room holds 750—Harrahs, Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. And a woman’s voice shouted out, “I hate those shoes!” And because of the way I think—which is not to challenge, not to beat up the person but to understand what the person has just said and to remain linear—I said, “Madame, you are very, very fortunate, because these shoes will not be performing.” And, man, I never heard from her again.

Were you ever tempted to work as a blue act?
Sure. There was a time when Richard Pryor’s popularity kicked in strong, and there really was a feeling from me—not that I wanted to use profanity—but it just seemed like this was due to Richard’s sales and the publicity. . . . Hey man, it’s a matter of sort of “keeping up with the Pryors.” I was at the Las Vegas Hilton, and it had been on my mind for some time. But I had rejected it because I just always felt I didn’t want it. That particular night I went into a story about my father, and I gave my father the profanity while addressing me. I think I did it for about two or three minutes, which is a long time. The next day, Barron Hilton called the owner of the hotel in Las Vegas. Barron never bothered me, and I was drawing strong, so . . . He said, “Bill, I just want you to read something. And you just do what you want with it.” It was a letter from six nuns who had seen that show. And they very nicely said that they were disappointed that a fellow they felt comfortable with had disappointed them with the use of the profanity. They didn’t ask for their money back, they didn’t say they walked out, but they just felt that they respected this fellow, Mr. Cosby, so much and he really and truly did not need to go in the direction of this, the [foul] language was unnecessary. Then they wished me the best. That was the day . . . that was it. I wasn’t too happy anyway, so the letter just helped close the book on that. And for my not embracing it [working blue], I have been able to turn over volumes of thoughts and write about them and turn them into modernist routines.

When “I Spy” came out, there was a fear that some network affiliate stations wouldn’t carry the show.
It wasn’t only a fear, it was a reality. Television, in those days, people blamed everything on the South. But they were using the South as a reasonable excuse to do what they wanted with their racist thoughts. The beauty of “I Spy” was that even though there were some stations that had people threatening to pull their commercials because of the presence of this actor—this black man—it didn’t have much strength. But I would not be surprised that there were some stations that did put on something else.

How did your life change after the success of “I Spy”?
NBC allowed me to have my own show, “Chet Kincaid,” which lasted two years. Then I had one-hour variety shows with my variety specials, so the change was just tremendous, the acceptance. I think in 1971, I had four LPs on Billboard’s charts. I had four comedy albums in the Top 10 because radio stations were playing them then. So there you can see the strength, the popularity.

Was there any subject matter you wanted to cover on “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” but didn’t feel comfortable approaching?
No, and when you look at the box set of Fat Albert shows, you just look at the titles and see how far ahead that show still is on subject matter.

Which of your television shows had the greatest impact on society?
If you play “Chet Kincaid,” there’s a ton of stuff there, a ton. If you play “I Spy,” you look at it. But people keep saying that I’m the Jackie Robinson of television. And I always say to them, “Well, if I’m the Jackie Robinson, then Robert Culp must have been the Pee Wee Reese and the Eddie Stanky [Robinson's teammates].” We went all around. We went to Mexico, we brought Mexican people into your living room. We brought Japanese, Chinese, and Korean people into your living room because we traveled around the world. We brought Greek people, Italian people into your living room, Spanish people into your living room, English people. So, “I Spy” just wasn’t a black man and a white man, it was all around the world. &


The Grand Dame of Insults

Joan Rivers puts her wits and cosmetic surgery on display at the Alys Stephens Center.


November 25, 2010

Born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, Joan Rivers changed her name at the suggestion of a talent scout when she began working comedy clubs in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. By 1965, she was working as a gag writer on the TV show “Candid Camera,” which employed hidden cameras to film everyday people on the street in setups that were designed to garner shocked reactions (such as trees or cars that talked to the unwitting subject ). Although Rivers is known for abrasive, brash humor that focuses on insults and self-deprecating remarks, her stage persona in no way represents her true character, as reflected in a recent phone conversation. At age 77 she’s not slowing down. In 2009 she starred in—and won—”Celebrity Apprentice” and in 2010 returned to E!’s Red Carpet to critique Oscar night fashion. She currently hosts E!’s “Fashion Police” with Kelly Osbourne. Rivers will appear at the Alys Stephens Center on Sunday, December 12, at 7 p.m., as part of the ASC Holiday Comedy Show. Alys Stephens Center, Jemison Concert Hall, 1200 10th Avenue South. Tickets: $20–$65. Details:

Black & White: I was surprised to learn that you worked on “Candid Camera” in the 1960s.
Joan Rivers: Yep. I think that was the original reality show. A lot of us came out of that show —Lily Tomlin worked there, George Carlin.

I also didn’t realize you were in the film The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster. How did you come to be cast in that?
They saw me working a nightclub and liked me. They wrote the part in for me, which was exciting. That was the first movie I ever did. I remember thinking what on old guy Burt Lancaster was, and he was 45 years old! I remember thinking, “God, this old guy—what’s he doing here?”

An aging Joan Rivers, with nary a wrinkle in sight (click for larger version)

Are you ever offended by comics?
Oh no, no. I think comedy should be a little offensive. To be funny, you’ve got to step out of the box. Somebody’s always going to get offended, but that’s good. Comedy should always be making a point and making people aware of things.

It’s impressive that you were the first permanent guest host to fill in for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
I was the first woman guest host, and then the first permanent guest host—man, woman, or child.

What type of show will you be doing in Birmingham?
It’s a standup-style show, very simple. I come out and talk to the audience for an hour, hour and a half. I talk about everything that annoys me; everything that is right and wrong with society, I discuss. It’s funny, I hope . . . they’re all funny!

You were one of the groundbreakers among female comics, weren’t you?
Well, they’ve been around for years but I was one of the first that wanted to look nice on stage. Before me was Phyllis Diller, and she always looked like a clown. But I was single and I wanted to get married, so I was trying to look as nice as I could on stage.

On “Fashion Police,” you’re working with Kelly Osbourne. Have you met her father, Ozzy?
Kelly is adorable. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her father, but I’m not so sure it is (a pleasure). I think it may be a little bit of an act with him, because she talks about her father grounding her and driving her to school. It sounds a lot more normal than you think it would be.

Pee-wee Herman was your first guest when you had your talk show on Fox (“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” which premiered in 1986)?
Yes. He’s back now, he’s back on Broadway. He is so funny. It’s about time they forgave him. I mean, all he was doing was picking up a guy in a theater. So what? Don’t worry about that, there’s a lot worse things that can go on. I loved being on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” too.

Did you and Sam Kinison make up after he failed to appear on your show after you had promoted his appearance all week?
Oh yeah. Now there’s a talent that shouldn’t have died. He got over drugs and got married and everything was tip-top and terrific, then he gets killed in an automobile accident. He was so funny and so brilliant.

Were you on “Hollywood Squares” when Paul Lynde was there?
Now you’re mentioning names that nobody’s going to know, except the two of us . . . Paul Lynde was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. But a mean guy. He was a bad drunk.

You’ve had a few facelifts. What is your opinion of Mickey Rourke’s face job?
All the men wait too long to have facelifts. Women are smart, and they do it when they need it. Men wait until they are really desperate and then they look like they went into a wind tunnel. They figure it’s sissy. But it’s a business where you have to look good; our business is all about that. And as you need it, you do it.

What do you do when you’re not working?
I watch a lot of old movies, I’m a big old movie buff. I love dogs, I’ve got three now. I don’t understand anybody that doesn’t have pets, something to make you have a home.

Any new shows on the horizon that you’ll be in that you can tell us about?
My daughter and I have a reality show coming called Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? (It premieres January 2011 on the WE network). &


Dead Folks 2005, Television part 2

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 2

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.



February 24, 2005Bob Keeshan

Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo (click for larger version)



Far sillier (and better dressed) than Mr. Rogers could ever be, Bob Keeshan, otherwise known as the walrus-faced Captain Kangaroo, ruled children’s television programming on CBS from 1955 to 1984. The “Captain Kangaroo” show, which finished its run at PBS in the early ’90s, followed the Captain and his ragtag cast of puppets and characters, including Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Dancing Bear, and Mr. Green Jeans (who, despite rumors, was not the father of Frank Zappa) throughout their adventures at Treasure House. Keeshan entertained his audience with cartoons, the mysterious Magic Drawing Board, and sundry other gags. When Mr. Moose told one of his ridiculous knock-knock jokes, a shower of ping-pong balls was inevitable.

Keeshan (76), who started his career armed with a pair of horns and a bottle of seltzer water as Clarabell the Clown on “The Howdy Doody Show” in the late 1940s, couldn’t dance, sing, or even play an instrument, but he always had an eye-popping outfit and a knack for making funny faces. —D.M.

Robert Pastorelli

Robert Pastorelli

He enjoyed a fine career as the housepainter Eldin on seven seasons of “Murphy Brown,” plus successful big-screen turns in Michael and Eraser. However, it seems Robert Pastorelli (49) was speaking a little too soon when proclaiming himself to be a former druggie in recent interviews he gave. In his defense, though, Pastorelli’s heroin overdose may not have been an accident. It turns out the cops were very eager to question the actor about the increasingly questionable “suicide” of his live-in girlfriend back in 1999. —J.R. Taylor.

Jan Miner

Madge: “You’re soaking in it.”

Customer getting manicure: “Dishwashing liquid?!”

Madge: “Relax. It’s Palmolive.”

Viewers who recall those television advertisements, which ran for a stunning 27 years, are all too familiar with stage actress Jan Miner (82). She played Madge the Manicurist, a wise broad (of a certain age) whose mission in life was to alarm customers before spreading the good news about Palmolive dish detergent, those green suds that “soften hands while you do the dishes.” —D.P.

Mary-Ellis Bunim

The next time you witness a drunken hook-up on “The Real World,” thank Mary-Ellis Bunim (57), one of the founding producers of MTV’s original reality series—or just turn off the television. Bunim, a TV “pioneer,” is responsible for changing the face of television in 1992. Bunim/Murray Productions bypassed actors and selected seven real unemployed post-graduates, er, strangers, to get real (eat, sleep, get wasted) while hanging out in a posh pad together for three months—without television—as the cameras rolled 24 hours a day to catch every droll, er, dramatic act.

MTV plans to air five more seasons of the show, carrying “Real World” through its unnecessary 20th season. If being solely remembered for producing the show that married Pedro, kicked off Puck, and let Coral rule as queen bitch wasn’t enough, Bunim/Murray Productions can also be blamed for the Fox Network’s “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. That’s hot. —Danielle McClure

Ed Kemmer

Ed Kemmer (84) appeared as Commander Buzz Corry in the popular science fiction television program “Space Patrol,” broadcast live each week on the ABC network from 1950 to 1955. Kemmer switched from portraying heroes to villains when appearing on “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Maverick.” He was also featured in daytime dramas “The Edge of Night” and “All My Children.” Lampert once said that of all his roles, he was most proud of “Space Patrol” because engineers told him they were inspired to careers at NASA after watching the sci-fi series as children. A German POW for a year in 1944, Kemmer staged plays in prison camp. —Ed Reynolds

Art James/Gene Wood

It’s sad when a creative voice is stilled, but we’re also losing far too many non-creative voices—specifically, those legendary figures of game shows who didn’t even get to cash in on the genre’s short-lived recent revival. Art James (74) was certainly unique in his field, having served as both an actual host (Concentration and Blank Check) and announcer for shows including The Joker’s Wild and Tic Tac Dough. Gene Wood’s (78) long association with Mark Goodson Productions allowed the legendary announcer to achieve two cultural milestones. His rave-up intro to Family Feud would later be appropriated by the World Wresting Federation, and that was his voice whispering the secret word on variations of the popular Password series. —J.R.T.

Isabel Sanford

As a not-so-young character actress, Isabel Sanford (86) built a fairly amazing filmography, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The New Centurions, and Lady Sings the Blues. The real fame for the former stage actress began in 1971, though, when she made her first appearance as Archie Bunker’s neighbor on “All In The Family.” A quick recast of her husband, and the groundwork was laid for “The Jeffersons.” She invested her money much more wisely than co-star Sherman Hemsley, so it was probably just a good sense of humor that kept Sanford repeating her role long after the series had ended in 1985—including in Denny’s commercials, a “Tonight Show” cameo, and a turn in the big-screen comedy Mafia! —J.R.Taylor

All in the family — An interview with Tom Smothers

All in the family

An interview with Tom Smothers

February 24, 2005

In 1959 Tom and Dick Smothers began as a singing duo before evolving into one of the most enduring comedic teams of all time. “Mom always liked you best” was Tom’s most often repeated charge in the long-running, put-on feud with brother Dick. Their first national television appearance was on Jack Paar’s show in 1961. In 1967, CBS decided to give the Smothers Brothers a shot at the “kamikaze hour,” the 9 p.m. time slot opposite NBC’s “Bonanza.” Nine shows had gone down in flames attempting to break “Bonanza’s” seemingly insurmountable hold on television ratings. CBS hoped that “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” would appeal to a younger audience, but Tom and Dick assumed that they would fail as others had. According to Maureen Muldaur’s documentary Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the team had nothing to lose, but the brothers hoped to get at least half a season out of the deal and then “go fishing in Mexico” the rest of the year.

If Tom Smothers was going down, he was going down throwing his best punches. He demanded that the network give him complete creative control. The result was an hour of political satire that caught network executives and the nation off-guard. The reactionary youth movement of the 1960s had been defined by hippies, Black Panthers, and other insurgent characters, so no one expected a pair of short-haired, clean-shaven brothers to take on the Vietnam War, racial integration, and other social issues of the day. The show reached number one in the ratings as CBS observed with horror the subversive monster it had unleashed. Frank Stanton, the president of the network, often watched the program with President Lyndon Johnson at the White House, which resulted in Monday morning messages to Tom and Dick to tone down the controversy. By the second season, CBS was censoring the show and eventually canceled it halfway through the third year because a script was supposedly turned in too late to be reviewed. The brothers later won a $30-million lawsuit against CBS for breach of contract.

The Smothers Brothers: Tom and Dick. (click for larger version)

In 1988, CBS invited the brothers to do a “Comedy Hour” reunion. The network requested that the pair be as cutting edge and controversial as they had been two decades earlier, but Tom and Dick refused to comply. They decided to stick to just being funny. The Smothers Brothers will appear with the Alabama Symphony on Thursday, March 3 at the BJCC Concert Hall. Tom Smothers even promised to perform his astonishing yo-yo tricks.

No one expected a pair of short-haired, clean-shaven brothers to take on the Vietnam War, racial integration, and other social issues of the day. When “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” reached number one in the ratings as CBS observed with horror the subversive monster it had unleashed.

B&W: I’m having trouble picturing the Smothers Brothers performing with a symphony.

Tom Smothers:
We do about eight or 10 symphonies a year, and we think they are the most fun of all the jobs we do. We do about 75 to 100 dates a year.

B&W: What makes the symphony dates so much fun?

Smothers: There’s something about the formality of a symphony. For a comedian, the easiest place to get a laugh without any effort is a schoolroom, courtroom, or a symphony hall (laughs). There’s something formal about it, and comedy kind of breaks that little formality. We always put monitors in back so that they [symphony members] can hear the dialogue and stuff—and I always turn around and look, and they are always laughing. They have the best time. It’s like having an audience behind us and an audience in front of us.

Are you and Dick the longest-running comedy team?

Smothers: We are the longest-lived comedy team in history. That form is very difficult to do. The kids today all do stand-up, you know . . . Being in a comedy team is like a marriage. It’s very complicated, and that’s why they don’t last very long, ’cause you get in each other’s face (laughs). Dicky and I had couples’ counseling about six years ago. Eighteen hours of these people. It cleared up a lot of stuff. [The therapist] said, “Stop treating each other like brothers and grow up, and treat each other like professionals.” Someone asked, “How do you guys get along?” Dicky said, “Well. It’s like an old marriage. A lot of fighting and no sex.”

B&W: I used to feel sorry for Dick because you were the one getting all the laughs. Did he ever want to be the funny guy?

Smothers: We’ve tried it before, but he’s very comfortable with being the straight man. In the early days, I got more attention than he did. The comic always did. It was 1978 or ’79, and we were watching Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis, and I realized the straight man does most of the talking. Bud Abbott is doing all the talking, and that’s where the balance came in. If the audience believes the straight man, they’ll believe the comic. In the early days of vaudeville, the straight man was paid more money because it was a skilled position. It was the most difficult one, because a good straight man can bring people out of the audience and up on the stage and get laughs off of them. So Dicky and I understand that now, so there’s no problem with who recognizes his place. He’s basically keeps the tempo; he’s the rhythm section for the comedy. And he’s really good. Dicky ranks up there with Bud Abbott and Dean Martin and Dan Rowan and George Burns. He’s really that good.

Were you two ever tempted to work as a more raunchy act?

Smothers: Never. We started in the era of working clean, so it was very easy to keep it going. And now it’s darn near a point of difference—there’s not that many comedians that work clean. We get the same laughs but even better, and don’t have to use the F-word. Offstage, when I’m not working, sometimes I say, “What the f**k’s going on here? Give me the f**king hammer. Who f**ked this up?” Because that’s the way I talk when I’ve had a couple of drinks. My wife goes, “Ooohhh.” I’ve got a nine-year old and an 11-year old. Occasionally I’ll let out a word. I’ve got a swear jar. It’s got about 150 bucks in it now.

We started in 1959, we were fired in 1969, so we had 10 years of unparalleled success. Everything we did was ripe. And then in the ’70s, we could hardly get a job after that. We were untouchable.

“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” had an impressive list of writers (Mason Williams, Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Bob Einstein, among others). I only knew Mason Williams for writing and performing the song “Classical Gas.”

Smothers: We [introduced] that song on the air. He’s also the one who wrote the Smothers Brothers theme. He was a major moral compass for me. We were roommates at the time we started the show. We were both single and we’ve got a television show, and Mason would read the script and he’d say, “That’s bullshit.” Then I’d go to the meeting and pretend it was all my idea. I’d go, “This doesn’t seem to work.” The whole thing was that we were trying to make some comedy that was at least relevant or had some factual background or something of interest or educational or something, so we tried to insert that kind of stuff into the “Comedy Hour.” Bob Einstein [comedian Albert Brooks' older brother, who is better known as comedic stuntman of sorts, Super Dave] was 21, Rob Reiner was 21. We had all these young writers. Dicky was 29, I was 30 during that time. It was a fun time; it made an impression. We started in 1959, we were fired in 1969, so we had 10 years of unparalleled success. Everything we did was ripe. And then in the ’70s, we called [those years] the dark ages (laughs). We could hardly get a job after that. We were untouchable. Very little eye contact in Hollywood. So we all moved away, and Dicky started a winery up in Sonoma, in northern California. He started racing cars and I did some theater. Then we started doing dinner theater, and then we ended up doing a Broadway show for about two years. And then we started working again in 1980 as The Smothers Brothers. It was like starting from scratch, but there was a residual respect that we got from that firing. We never wore out our welcome because we were on for so short a time. Then the winery started happening, so we’re in the food section (laughs). Then when we went to court with CBS, we were in the legal section. Then we would occasionally get another television show, so it was a pretty good career.

The show had an unusual mix of music. You’d have the Jefferson Airplane one week and Kate Smith the next.

Smothers: (Laughs) We had a rare opportunity to have one foot in the past. So we got the Jimmy Durantes and the Kate Smiths and Betty Davis. So we always had those rock groups and contemporary groups and classic old traditional stars, which was a great combination. We loved that. Music was our first thing. Dicky and I started off as musicians first, and the comedy just slowly edged its way in. And then when the Kingston Trio started working, folk music started happening. And I said, “Oh boy, this is really good stuff. Good stories.” So that’s when the comedy started happening, and Dicky started talking a little more and a little more, and pretty soon there was the comedy team.

Were you as shocked as everyone else when The Who played the “Comedy Hour” and Keith Moon got blown off his drum kit at the end of “My Generation”?

Smothers: (Laughing) It was a surprise to everybody. The union guy put the charge in, then Keith Moon went and put another charge in, and the first charge hadn’t gone off. There were three charges in that thing. So when that went off, man . . . Peter Townshend still can’t hear (laughs).

B&W: Was it prearranged when Townshend smashed your acoustic guitar?

Yeah, I knew he was going to do that. We bought a much less expensive guitar that looked like mine. His ears were ringing, and I was looking around to see if anybody was injured. He staggered over to me because he knew he was supposed to take my guitar (laughs). And it looks so real because I was distracted, I was so concerned. When it first happened, I thought Moon’s drum had exploded, but now I look back and it didn’t. There were limiters on the microphones or else it would have blown out all the mics and everything.”

The current FCC crackdown is focused on profanity, exposed breasts, and other things of a suggestive nature more so than the political comedy that got you and Dick fired by CBS. Do you see any parallels at all?

Smothers: During the time that we were on in 1968 and ’69, there was a Senator Pastori, who was a raving, crazy man about the terrible stuff that was going on in television back then (laughs). So when we were on, we couldn’t say the words “sex education,” we couldn’t use the word “pregnant.” All the censorship was set up, basically, to protect the people from bad words and sexual innuendos. We didn’t do that. We were talking politics. So on April 4, 1969, we were fired from our show. We were fired for our viewpoints on Vietnam. People would come up to us before this last FCC and Janet Jackson stuff happened, and ask, ‘Don’t you wish you were on television, because now you can say anything you want?’ There’s that illusion that sexual content and violence and scatological talk is freedom. But there was nothing being said except sophomoric focus on the crotch. People would say, ‘We’re free, we’re free!’ and I would say, ‘No, no. Political criticism and satire since that time has been relegated to the fringes of television, which is cable, “Saturday Night Live,” at 11 o’clock where the viewing audience is way, way down and [the show] doesn’t create a big issue.’ So things have gone backwards, I think . . . The thing that offends me the most is that Howard Stern has become the poster boy for First Amendment rights. What a crock. Of all the people to pick, a guy that just talks about lesbians and tits and ass and stuff, and that’s the free speech thing? What a contradiction of values (laughs). I was at one time a poster boy for First Amendment rights. I was chosen. I didn’t volunteer.

B&W: Were you and Dick constantly getting pressure from CBS to tone down the controversy on the show?

Smothers: Oh, yeah. It was constant. I didn’t even know I was saying anything important until they said, “You better stop.” It’s amazing. It’s been over 35 years since that show was on the air. It was only on for two and a half seasons, but it made a pretty big impression. Because it’s still a point of conversation. I look back on these old shows and I kind of cringe a little bit. We did some shows in ’88 and ’89 for CBS where we introduced the Yo-Yo Man and stuff, and that was some of the best work that Dicky and I have ever done, next to our albums. The performances on the original show were not up to snuff, because I was so busy producing and worrying about other stuff. Everything except Dicky and I.

B&W: What was the final straw that made CBS cancel the show?

Smothers: David Steinberg did a sermonette . . . But it would have been something else. Nixon had just gotten elected and wasn’t going to listen to The Smothers Brothers criticize Vietnam policy (laughs). We became a threat (laughs) . . . The truth is what you persuade other people to believe. I’m so depressed. (Speaking in a weary voice). People aren’t thinking clear. But I’m kind of a liberal progressive, so I’m always on the other point of view, and I haven’t changed. I just turned 68 two days ago on Groundhog Day. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Old age is anyone 20 years older than you.”

B&W: I’ve seen photographs of Richard Nixon at the Grand Ole Opry playing with a yo-yo, and he looked like he was pretty good. Would the Yo-Yo Man philosophy apply to Nixon?

Smothers: (laughs) Well, yeah . . . The philosophy is basically a perserverence. And the yo-yo, if you miss it, you just get right back on and you keep practicing. Your failures are what head you toward success. Around the World [a yo-yo trick] is like you go out every day and do stuff, and sometimes we fail and we have to try it again and never quit. It’s got a nice philosophy to it. The Yo-Yo Man does not talk, and Dick is kind of the play-by-play announcer. So with the yo yo, I don’t make every trick every time the first time sometimes. Dicky will say, “Oh, the Yo-Yo Man is out of his groove. Come on, Yo-Yo Man, concentrate. Don’t give up. Tom has made a lot of mistakes; he’s learning a lot. He’s working on his doctorate (laughs).”

B&W: Did you and Dick make Nixon’s enemies list?

Smothers: No, we were his first success. It was after that he said, “Hey, let’s make a list.” The plumbers were setting us up with drug busts and all kinds of stuff. It was dirty. I didn’t know what hardball was. It was right after we were fired. We were also doing a movie; it was called Another Nice Mess. This was 1970, and it was a movie with Rich Little and a guy named Herb Bolen, and we dressed them up to look exactly like Nixon and Agnew. But they talked and acted like Laurel and Hardy, and Nixon was always looking at Agnew and going (imitates Oliver Hardy), “That’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into.” So out of the midst of that, I had a friend who was a former Marine and later worked at the CIA who called me and said, “Tom, I met a guy down at the federal building who asked me, ‘Do you know Tommy Smothers?’” And my friend said, “Yeah.” The guy then said, “I thought I’d tell you that if he’s a friend of yours, there’s a drug bust being set up for him. Tell him to have someone with him at all times, have his car sent to the car wash everyday.” So I got the word, and I started looking up all my friends and let them know that they better clean up their act. So I’m supposed to be on a plane coming up to San Francisco where I was living with my grandfather at the time. I missed the flight. I was busy doing some editing. At about nine o’clock, he called and said, “There’s a bunch of guys here, federal and state narcotics people going through the house.” That was an exciting time of my life. I hid out for a week. I had smoked some grass, but my house was clean as a whistle because I was warned in advance.

B&W: Would you like to have another TV show to take on the conservative establishment these days?

Smothers: It’s not the conservative establishment; it’s a question of fairness and common sense. When you look at stuff and kind of criticize things that don’t make sense, it doesn’t matter what side it comes from—left or right. The problem is that we’re at the age now where we’re age-discriminated against. We’re a little too old. They have MTV for the kids. When are they going to get a network for the adults so we can have some interesting and smart stuff? Then we’d be on!

B&W: I read that you have a lot of respect for Ralph Nader. Did you take issue with him when liberals complained that he drew electoral votes away from Gore?

Smothers: No. I happen to have more than respect for him. He’s one of the rarest people in the world. He never compromised standing up for the little people. His whole thing is standing up for the consumer. Where everybody jumped on him for supposedly throwing the election to Bush, that’s all bullshit. People ask, “Why would you vote for Nader? He’s not going to win.” I say, “Well, when you vote for a Republican or a Democrat, one of them’s not going to win either.” You vote for what you believe in. You never hear him yell, you never hear him talk dirty, you never hear him get angry with people. He keeps this real calm demeanor, and he makes absolute sense. I haven’t voted for a Republican or Democrat in 18 years. Both those parties are so corrupt now. It’s a joke. I mean, they’re all bought and paid for by corporations.

B&W: What’s it going to take to break the stronghold the two parties have on American politics?

Smothers: It’s going to take a revolution (laughs). I think the biggest problem is that since the media has become so consolidated . . . I think we should make an amendment to the Constitution, the First Amendment—freedom of speech—we should add “freedom of hearing.” Some smart things are being said, but we don’t get to hear them. They don’t come out through the microphone. So this country remains ignorant. You have to really get out there and dig to find the truth. I’m still pissed off. But it’s not in our show. Our show’s pretty darned middle-of-the-road. It’s a family show, and we make a few social comments in there that aren’t pointed enough, but people get it.

B&W: Lots of people are referring to the war in Iraq as another Vietnam.

Smothers: Well, it is! It is. What was the Vietnam war about? Well, we’re going to stop the domino thing. And over in someone else’s country, fighting for the hearts and minds. And we’re going the same way. There’s no exit strategy. Rumsfeld and McNamara are the same people. And they look alike, too! It’s amazing how collective memory just went away. You saw it coming from a mile away . . . God, you know when the Dixie Chicks said that thing about Bush? They disappeared. No stations would play them. People are scared to death. You can see this totalitarian thing, militarism. If anybody questions anything, it’s treason. We’ve gotta keep our sense of humor, because last time I lost it for about two years. I was just a dreadfully dull dude (laughs). Finally, I saw Jane Fonda on television one time and she was just . . . eyes all crossed and angry. I was watching her and I said, “Oh man, I’m starting to look like that. I better stop that. Find the joke again (laughs).” &