Tom and Dick Smothers caught on in a big way with their blend of folk music and humorous shtick, and at the height of their popularity, they became crusaders for cutting-edge expression as they butted heads with their entertainment corporation patrons.
The New York-born brothers started performing in 1959 while attending San Jose State University. Two years later, they had an album, “Live at the Purple Onion.” Their comedy, based largely on sibling rivalry and guitarist Tom Smother’s apparent dim-wittedness, sustained them through several more recordings, and in 1967 they got their own CBS variety show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” Its irreverence earned it a following in the flowering counterculture, as the brothers and a staff that included Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Albert Brooks and Pat Paulsen spoofed established institutions and gave a platform to rock bands and to the black-listed folk singer Pete Seeger. Its controversial nature resulted in its cancellation in 1969, and though the Smothers later returned to TV, they never regained that level of popularity.
They’ve continued to perform regularly, and in 2008, Martin presented Tom Smothers with a commemorative Emmy for “Comedy Hour.” The show's writers had won an Emmy in 1968, but Tom Smothers had recused himself over concerns that including his name would be too controversial and hurt the show's chances of winning, according to the duo's website.