Tom Smothers

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While Tom Smothers is known for being a part of the infamous Smothers Brothers, he's also more than simply a man playing the yo-yo. In this interview we delve into what makes Tom tick and why he's so political.

DM) This is the second time that we've spoken. We spoke 16 years ago or so when you played at Westbury Music Fair. I told my mom I wanted to go to a Smothers Brothers show. I had collected all of the old albums from garage sales.

TS) We're always happily shocked when we have a fan who is so young. Did your parents play the Smothers Brothers albums for you? Is that why you came?

DM) It was a television special that you did on TV.

TS) Oh, 1988, the yo-yo man and all of that. Yes, 1988 was a Smothers Brothers reunion show and then we did 16 more specials. Then Yo-Yo man was on. We thought that those were some of the best shows of our lives.

DM) It seems that your humor was on two levels. One minute you'd discuss Nixon and, the next minute, you'd throw a yo-yo around the room. Was that a conscious choice?

TS) It wasn't a conscious choice. Number one, when I was 15, I was just discovering a sense of humor. Even though I got politicized during the Vietnam war, I also knew that I had to be funny too and then I discovered the yo-yo. It was great. I started picking up all of these tricks. There's not anyone in the world who doesn't know what a yo-yo is and where it doesn't make them smile. One thing if you're talking about Nixon, Bush or bad policy, you've got to be funny. There are two levels going on.

DM) Do you find that you still have kids getting into Yo-Yo man as much as the parent's getting the political humor?

TS) Oh yeah, but if you're not on television in awhile, people seem to think you've passed away. They don't see you for awhile and they forget, but when we go out and do the concerts, we always sell out and people love the Yo-Yo man act.

DM) It's always a bit disarming to jump from politics to the Yo-Yo man.

TS) It's a bit disarming isn't it? I remember the first year that Bush would make those malapropos in the speeches. At the time, some people thought it was cute. After 9-11 he doesn't do that anymore.

DM) I'm surprised, with all of the political issues going on, there isn't more of a resurgence of the political humor that you were doing.

TS) There is and there was. We're getting a lot of emails with people saying, "We need you now." We went down to a showcase at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles for the first time in 27 years. All of the major network executives were there and we had meetings with all of them about a television show. They all loved the show, it was a complete standing ovation. After a few weeks, they all said they had to pass. I think the pressure now is not to speak out. I don't see anybody speaking out at all or at least you have to watch television at 11:30 p.m. just to find them.

While they complained, they all gave a standing ovation. We really thought we had a new series going.

DM) Is it that people are too sensitive to criticize politics and the administration?

TS) It looks that way doesn't it? When we did our show in the '60s, during the Vietnam War, you were either a hawk or a dove; a right winger or a left winger. It was pretty decisive, but not nearly as decisive as it is now. Now, you have only two people who own all of the networks and all of the programs. There's no political satire on primetime television anymore.

DM) At one point Michael Moore's book was on the top-ten list at the same time as Anne Coulter; both at opposite extremes. In a way, though, it seems even more polarized than it did in the '60s.

TS) I've been at both and this is vehement. We did a guest spot on the O'Reily Factor and also Hannity and Colmes. There was a little argument and it went over nicely, but we got emails with threats afterwards, though. Cursing and screaming in the email. On the 75th anniversary we did a bit entitled the morons or the lessons. We got all kinds of feedback on that too. When the Smothers Brothers came on the air we had no political point of view or social consciousness, it just evolved as the show was on the air. All of a sudden they thought, "We didn't see them coming." Now they know who we are and maybe they just consider the act old.

DM) It sounds like it's not the act, but the environment.

TS) That's what it seems like to me, too. Most of the comments that we get are, "Boy we need you right now more than ever." When you look up the words totalitarian and fascist, it fits what this country is going through. They seem to want a one-party system and they want everybody to think the same.

DM) But that would seem to be the time that we need the Smothers Brothers more than ever!

TS) (laughs) Maybe not the Smothers Brothers, but we need people to speak out. People like Al Franken and Michael Moore. Talk about a hero; he's fearless. Now, we have the internet that helps to get that message across.

DM) But I would think, with the means of communication like the Internet, it would be a better environment than the '60s.

TS) You would think so, wouldn't you. There is, but the main media, television, where most people get their information doesn't reflect that. It all happens below the national attention. The average blue-collar worker who flies the American flag, isn't getting this information.

DM) Is it possible to disagree with the government and still be a patriotic American?

TS) Absolutely, that's what people like Bill Mahrer are doing.

DM) Do you ever get depressed that it feels like a constant fight?

TS) I get depressed because it feels like the fight is over. It happened some time during Clinton's watch. It really was Bush to Clinton to Bush. If you read Michael Moore's book, he calls Clinton the best Republican president that the democrats ever had. I thought he had an opportunity. He talked the talk, he was smart, he could ad lib, he was good on his feet, but he made policies that were just the same. The progressive movement hasn't had a good leader in a while. I've not voted for a republican or democrat in 20 years.

DM) Do those independent voices like the Green Party make a difference?

TS) Absolutely. It's not important that they win, but that you get to hear their thoughts.

 

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