Decades before The Daily Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour proved there was a place on television for no-holds-barred political comedy with a decidedly antiauthoritarian point of view. In this explosive, revealing history of the show, veteran entertainment journalist David Bianculli tells the fascinating story of its three-year network run---and the cultural impact that's still being felt today.
Before it was suddenly removed from the CBS lineup (reportedly under pressure from the Nixon administration), The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a ratings powerhouse. It helped launch the careers of such comedy legends as Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, featured groundbreaking musical acts like the Beatles and the Who, and served as a cultural touchstone for the antiwar movement of the late 1960s.
Drawing on extensive original interviews with Tom and Dick Smothers and dozens of other key players---as well as more than a decade's worth of original research---Dangerously Funny brings listeners behind the scenes for all the battles over censorship, mind-blowing musical performances, and unforgettable sketches that defined the show and its era. David Bianculli delves deep into this riveting story to find out what really happened and to reveal why this show remains so significant to this day.
©2009 David Bianculli (P)2010 Tantor
“A fast-paced, informative reminder of the importance of speaking out.” (Kirkus)
I've been a big fan of Bianculli's, enjoying his reviews, blogs and your appearances on Fresh Air. I just heard a repeat of his interview with Terri about Dangerously Funny. This made me race off to Audible.com to see if there was a recorded version (the only kind of book I read for various reasons). At Audible I discovered the book was long and cost more than the usual $14.00 or so I spend for a book. This was $18+ but oh, well. I clicked "buy" without listening to a sample, which I almost always do. Oh, how disappointed I am. A book is only as good as its narrator. I'm sorry but I expected Bianculli's quality...maybe not his voice which I love, but at least as good a speaker. But no, this voice is monotone, unexciting, and just plain irritating (sorry, Heller). I've been considering asking for my money back, but the topic interests me so much that I think I'll stick with it. But if he writes another book, and I hope he does, please don't use Johnny Heller to narrate it. I know it's a lot of work, but he would do such a better job of reading his own material.
Computer Programmer and Worship Leader. Have enjoyed reading since my mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie prior to my teen years. My brother got me hooked on audio books after I started having a longer commute to work. Love a variety of genres.
Regardless of your perspective on their politics, this is a fascinating read! Couldn't wait to get to my car for my commute to hear the next chapter.
Having remembered the Smothers Brothers very vaguely, this was a very informative book, not only of their careers, but of the controversy and innovation surrounding the show. The story of how they grew up and became a duo was interesting, especially the big "launch" of their careers after their performance on the Jack Parr show.
The story of their battles with the network censors (and the censors were not always the bad guys) is captivating stuff, especially trying to see it from the perspective of 1960's television. It is also interesting to note that their sketches resulted in personal calls from then President Lyndon Johnson and also Bobby Kennedy's wife.
It is also noteworthy how many "discoveries" of new talent they found along the way. And the way in which they approached showcasing new talent was also very unique for their time.
Near the end of the book, they quoted a number of prominent entertainers and writers who were influenced by the Smothers Brothers. Gary Trudeau's take on their troubles was very insightful - that they started out with the right degree of "rebelliousness", but after awhile Tom just took it too far.
If you're thinking about reading the book and have Netflix or Blockbuster Online, it may be worth the effort and time to rent the DVD's and view a few shows, as it makes the book much more meaningful.
All in all a 5 star read.
The series bounces back and forth between actual performance sessions, but weaves a story of behind scenes interplay between the regular cast and guests. Great memories renewed. Too bad the full seasons aren't available on dvd!
The narration is so off-putting as to make it difficult to pick up the book for the next listening. The up and down of his intonation makes it necessary to dial the volume up to hear the quiet parts, assaulting the eardrums a second later. And his bare attempts at imitating Pat Paulson's voice and timing, or Richard Nixon, or Lyndon Johnson, or Bobby Kennedy, grate on the nerves like dragging fingernails on a blackboard. Only the interesting subject matter elevates this rating to a 2.
I too found the narration to be uneven and choppy. The book is very interesting and the reader's voice is fine but too often it is poorly edited. It can be jarring when the volume and tone of the voice abruptly changes, sometimes in mid-sentence. I have listened to dozens of audio books and this is the first one that I have been so acutely aware of the edits. It does make for a less than enjoyable listen.
I would buy a book by David Bianculli, because he's got a rare depth of knowledge about this subject. I would not buy another book narrated by Mr. Heller, however. It was very nearly unlistenable.
true crime fan
I was just a young girl when the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was on TV. I remember watching it with my mom and brother and laughing and laughing. My favorite skit was the continuing saga of Pat Paulson running for President. While I am sure I didn't catch all of the innuendos and inside jokes pertaining to Nixon's administration, I did understand most of what was going on. Listening to this as an adult and hearing the back story, I had no idea there was such in-fighting and drama behind a comedy show. I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommended it to my brother.
Comprehensive. Engaging. Historical.
This is my first for Mr. Heller. Terriffic, terriffic job.
No -- this one needs to be parsed out.
I was too young for the Smothers Brothers show, but the albums are among my favorites, so getting to hear the details of the rumors/stories about the show I'd always heard was the fascinating part for me. The relationship TV creators and networks had then was fascinating given the era we live in now, and that's the real hidden gem of interest in this book. In the light of history of the SB show itself, it's easy to see who the heroes were -- but the tactics of Tommy Smothers are properly characterized as brave, but also, well, not so bright. I can't speak too much to anyone who is not a SB fan, but the balance of power in that day and age is really explored and puts that aspect of this book on, at the very least, an American historical level, and well worth learning if you like television.
The big question with this book has to be: is it really worth my time to listen to a book about a fight over a television show from 45 years ago?
Well, Bianculli makes a valiant effort to argue that the answer should be yes, and the truth is I found this story remarkably interesting. There are deep questions here about the role of speech and censorship and media and national political divisions and youth culture, and drugs and all of that, and I'm amazed at how much this story comes off as an archetypal story of rebellious free spirits fighting for their freedom of expression against a tyrannical corporate and political structure trying to restrain them. Certainly that's how Tom Smothers saw things. Somehow "freedom" has become a watchword of the right; this book helps remind us that it's properly the province of the left.
That being said, it's still the inside story of a fight over what to put on television 45 years ago, and I can't help but think that it was not worth my time. Moreover to round out the book, there's a fair amount of filler on things like the Smothers' early career, earlier battles over television censorship by Jack Parr and others, and the Smothers' influence on later comedians. Honestly, I think this could have been a really good magazine article. But it's not a great audiobook.
Hyperbole is the Best Thing EVER!!!!
No for the author and yes for the reader
Bianculli is a TV critic, so this is his core knowledge base. The bulk of this book is basically a play-by-play for every show. It can be very informative, but also very tedious, but that I can forgive because it seems to me that it's how a TV critic would think.
The big issue is that he tries to over-sell the product.
He uses extreme exaggeration. The easiest way to describe this without spoiling anything is in the final chapter when he tried to proclaim the shows influence on today's television/comedy scenes, linking it to every possible show he can. He says they influenced Flight of the Conchords, who are from New Zealand, were born a number of years after the show was cancelled and most importantly and have never made such claims. Just because there are two of them and they sing, doesn't mean that they were ever influenced by Dick and Tom. And would Stephen Colbert have ever attempted to get on the ballot in South Carolina without Pat Paulsen having done so in 68? Of course he would have. He contradicts this claim by listing other people who had run as part of a humor bit. He uses this method elsewhere in the book too, but that begins to border on spoilers.
He also plays the conspiracy card by trying to incriminate Nixon in their being fired. Despite owning up to the fact that he could find no proof, he then spends a lot of time using logical fallacies to tie a man who had been in office for barely 3 months to their being fired.
And he makes too many unsubstantiated claims. I imagine that some of them are true and some of them are not, but because he does it so often, I come away wary of all his claims
He's a critic and not a historian and that shows. Opinion is not stronger than fact and he seems blissfully unaware of that.
More like who would I add. Is it possible that Dick Smothers was so inconsequential to the show that after the book shifts into the history of it, he deserves only a few passing mentions? I doubt it.
At the end of the day, Dick and Tom have cultural relevance. But what is the value of that cultural relevance? After reading the book, I am still unsure. I am quite sure its nowhere near the level that the author states.
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