Tuesday, January 02, 2024

The Betty White Award for 2023: Tommy Smothers

Betty White died on December 31, 2021. When I mention that, even now, some people are surprised that they didn't hear about it. Why? Because she died AFTER all of the who we said goodbye to this year articles have come out. I think its idiotic to have these things come out in DECEMBER instead of early January.  Same with Time Magazine's Person of the Year. If Joe Biden had managed to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians AND between Russia and Ukraine on Dec 31, then he might, just might, have been a better choice than Taylor Swift for Person of the Year.

BUT, rather than complain, I created The Betty White Award for famous people who die towards the end of December. 

Past Winners:

2006: James Brown and Gerald Ford. I didn't have the award then but I noticed their deaths coming to late in the year to be noticed, see my post  here.

2021: Betty White and Bishop Tutu. See my post here. I didn't quite have the award then, but its implied.

2022: Pele, Barbara Walters, Pope Emeritus Benedict. See my post here.

I thought based on these three data points that I would often have 2 or more winners. But no. For 2023 there is one winner:

Tommy Smothers who died on  Dec 26, 2023 at the age of 86.

Tommy and Dickie Smothers (his brother is still alive at the age of 85)  were known as The Smothers Brothers. They did Comedy and Music together. They are more known for their comedy. A few notes

0) I wrote this post on Dec 31. I was going to post it on Dec 31 at 11:00PM but then thought What if someone famous dies in the next hour? Then I'll need to redo the post, probably giving both that person and Tommy Smothers the award!  I waited until Jan 2 since its possible that someone famous dies and I don't hear about for a few days.

1) They had a comedy-variety show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour from Feb 1967 to June 1968. It was controversial at the time for some of its political comments though, frankly, if you saw it now I really don't see why they were controversial.  They had very high ratings but were cancelled because of the controversy. I don't understand that either- if its making the network money, then why cancel it? Possibilities:

a) They were losing sponsors. I have not read that this was the case. And I would think they could get new ones.

b) Some local stations refused to air it. This seems to be true.

c) The suits themselves were offended and put their principles above profits. 

d) They were scared that the FCC would crack down on them.

e) They got angry letters (this is true though I don't see why this means you cancel).

What controversy? They made fun of the president! They were against the war in Vietnam!

So I am puzzled that they were cancelled. 

I was young at the time  and didn't really understand it (I still don't) but I recalled a great Mad Magazine piece about it (in 1968).  And thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found it in about 5 seconds. Here it is: here.  I suspect that my young readers are not at all surprised that an article I read over 50  years ago I can find easily. This still surprises me. And I note that its not always so easy.

2) The show was one of the first to do political humor about real living politicians (Another one was That was the week that was which had Tim Lehrer on it, among others.) Comedy featuring a generic politician being, say, dishonest, was certainly allowed, but not an actual one with current issues. As such it lead the way for SNL, The Daily Show, and other shows. 

3) While Smothers Brothers sounds like a made up name, their last name really was Smothers. Reminds me of Clint Eastwood and Dolly Parton having great stage names for their real names.

4) One of their types of comedy was to start singing a real song (they were good singers- folk singers) and then in the middle of it get into an argument or discussion about it. Here is an example: here. (warning- this is NOT controversial or political)

5) There was one episode that never aired because of its controversy.  Here it is: here. I watched it. I cannot see what is controversial in it. There is also some commentary after it that explains why it was controversial.

More odd- I didn't find it that funny. And note that this is the kind of thing I usually DO find funny. But this is not a criticism- its just evidence that some shows (or art in general) has a short shelf live.

6) That one episode being on you tube reminds me of the ONE picture of FDR in a wheelchair is ALL OVER the web. Here is one place: here. Not just the web--- it was in my High School History Text with the caption a rare photo of FDR in a wheelchair. Even then I doubt it was rare since it was in many textbooks. And now being on the web makes it even harder to say its rare. I did a post a long time ago (I was a guest blogger) on how things on the web can't really be considered rare. Its here.

7) The fact that they were controversial then but would not be now reminds me of the TV show Tanner 88, which was on HBO in 1988 (one of their first original series) which followed the fictional presidential campaign of Jack Tanner. At the time it was considered biting political satire. I bought the DVD and watched it in 2008. A typical episode of West Wing (a good show, but hardly a biting political satire) had more bite. But again, much like The Smothers Brothers, it paved the way.Which brings up back to our original point:

 Tommy and Dickie Smothers: We THANK YOU for paving the way for political satire and commentary.  




  1. The brothers seem great, as a non-American I had missed them, respect to them. But are we better off due to political satire and comedy that dissects current issues? To me it seems all those shows you mention just dig more trenches and we all laugh at the jokes aimed at the other side and find the opposite not funny.

  2. Excellent point that I think of as a question: IS political humor bad for a calm reasoned political discourse? If it is part of the echo chamber than YES that is bad. If it raises issues that need to be raised (some of the humor in the 1960's may have done that) then that is good. In the times of kings only Court Jesters could speak the truth (I have heard that, though I do not know if its true.) I think that you are CORRECT- and its more of the echo chamber than of voices that need to be heard.

    1. That last comment was by Bill- Still having trouble getting the blog to know that I am me.

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