National Comedy Center Reunites the Smothers Brothers to Discuss Comedy and Censorship on 50th Anniversary of Network TV Firing

National Comedy Center Reunites the Smothers Brothers to Discuss Comedy and Censorship on 50th Anniversary of Network TV Firing

Iconic Smothers Brothers Artifacts, Creative Papers and Legal Documents Donated to National Comedy Center and Now on Display

Jamestown,  NY – July 31, 2019 – The legendary Smothers Brothers, the most enduring comedy duo in history, were reunited on stage this week — for the first time in nine years – as they engaged in a wide-ranging interview presented by the National Comedy Center at Chautauqua Institution on Monday, July 29. Marking the 50th anniversary year of their firing by CBS, Tom and Dick Smothers reflected on their career, their landmark TV show “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” comedy and censorship, and the importance of the First Amendment – both 50 years ago and today, in a discussion moderated by NPR “Fresh Air” TV critic David Bianculli, who authored an acclaimed book about the Smothers Brothers and their network TV show.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday afternoon at the National Comedy Center, the Smothers Brothers unveiled a display of archival material they donated to the National Comedy Center, including their iconic red suit jackets, Tom’s guitar and Dick’s bass, scripts and creative papers, a letter from President Lyndon Johnson which was read by the Smothers Brothers on their TV show, as well as legal documents from their landmark 1970s litigation against CBS in defense of their First Amendment rights.

“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” debuted in 1967 and quickly became a counter-cultural lightning rod, setting enduring First Amendment precedents that altered the course of comedy history. With their irreverent humor and singular blend of comedic and musical talent, the Brothers satirized politics, combated racism, and protested the Vietnam War, while pushing the boundaries of what was considered permissible on network television. Despite their tremendous popularity, CBS fired the Smothers Brothers due to political pressure in April 1969. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their wrongful firing, which was litigated in the precedent-setting censorship case Smothers Brothers v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.

“We are honored to bring Tom and Dick Smothers back to the stage after nine years, as we celebrate their extraordinary career and showcase important artifacts from their archives at the National Comedy Center,” stated Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director. “‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’ was a major milestone and an inflection point for comedy – influencing generations of comedy creators. We look forward to sharing the Smothers Brothers’ important story and preserving it for future generations.”

“The National Comedy Center is an incredible cultural institution. Until now, comedy was never considered serious art, and it is serious art,” stated Tom Smothers. “Laughter is being honored in this museum and we are so glad to be a part of it.”

“My brother and I are truly honored to be included in the National Comedy Center,” stated Dick Smothers. “This is the most unique museum in the entire world.”

The Smothers Brothers were the special guests for the first day of a comedy-themed week entitled “What’s Funny?” at the world-renowned Chautauqua Institution, July 29 – August 2, programmed in partnership with the National Comedy Center, which will be followed by the National Comedy Center’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown, NY, August 7 through 11.

About the National Comedy Center

 The National Comedy Center is the United States’ official cultural institution dedicated to presenting the vital story of comedy and preserving its heritage for future generations, as formally designated by the U.S. Congress in 2019. Opened in August 2018 in Jamestown, New York, the museum complex offers an unprecedented visitor experience using state-of-the-art technology, interactivity and personalization to create the first true 21st Century museum environment.

Condé Nast Traveler called the National Comedy Center “One of the best museums in the country,” while People magazine recently named it one of “100 Reasons to Love America.” Earlier this year, the National Comedy Center was voted a “Best New Attraction” in the county, ranking #2 out of 20 new attractions by USA Today readers, and chosen as the #1 museum and #1 ticketed attraction in this USA Today poll. Comedy industry authority The Interrobang named the design team second on its list of “Innovators Who Changed Comedy” in 2018. Visitors from all 50 states and nine countries have given the Center a rare 5/5 raring on TripAdvisor, ranking among the highest in the attraction and tourism industry

Based on the vision of Jamestown native Lucille Ball for her hometown to become a destination for comedy, the National Comedy Center showcases comedy’s great minds and unique voices in ways that engage, inspire, educate and entertain. As a non-profit institution, the National Comedy Center was funded by a mix of federal, state and private philanthropic support, including partnerships with I LOVE NEW YORK ™, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State’s Empire State Development.

Featuring exclusive collections, world-class exhibits and leading-edge technology, the National Comedy Center presents an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at the time-honed creative processes that have elevated comedy entertainment to an art form. Over 50 innovative exhibits with the 37,000-square-foot facility enable visitors to take an interactive journey through comedy history, from early vaudeville to the latest viral memes. Throughout their personalized experience, visitors gain a profound appreciation for comedy icons and innovators, as well as for the tremendous influence of humor on how we think, live and laugh.

Design for the National Comedy Center was led by the most prominent cultural and interactive design firms in the world, whose portfolios collectively include the award-winning 9/11 Memorial Museum, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, The College Football Hall of Fame, SNL: The Experience, and more.

The National Comedy Center has been embraced by the entertainment industry, with props, costumes and archival material provided by many of the most revered names in comedy. The Comedy Center recently announced a major initiative to preserve Carl Reiner’s personal “Dick Van Dyke Show” script archive. Exhibition partners include the Kelly Carlin and the George Carlin estate, George Shapiro and Jerry Seinfeld, Dan Aykroyd, Alan and Robin Zweibel, Joan Dangerfield, The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, The Harold Ramis Family, The Garry Shandling Estate, George Schlatter, Bill Marx and the Harpo Marx Family, the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams estate, Desilu Too, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Corporate Archive, and many more.

The National Comedy Center operates the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, which explores the lives, careers and legacy of the “First Couple of Comedy,” and the incredible impact they had on the world.

For over 25 years, the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown has showcased comedy’s rising young comedians and greatest stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Jay Leno, Lily Tomlin, Lewis Black, Trevor Noah, Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Gaffigan, Paula Poundstone, Ray Romano, Bob Newhart and The Smothers Brothers, and over one hundred other comedic artists. The 28th annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, presented by the National Comedy Center will be held August 7-11, headlined by Sebastian Maniscalco and John Mulaney.

About the Smothers Brothers

Tom and Dick Smothers, the groundbreaking Smothers Brothers, are the most enduring comedy duo in history, having performed together professionally since 1959.

Tom and Dick Smothers were born 22 months apart in New York City, and raised by their mother in Southern California. They attended San Jose State University, where they were exposed to a growing folk music scene. With Tom performing on acoustic guitar and Dick on stand-up bass, they developed a unique act that incorporated comedy banter and folk songs. Their first professional appearance at the Purple Onion in San Francisco in 1959 led to appearances at night clubs throughout the country. In the early 1960s, they made their first national television appearance on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show” and recorded the first of twelve top-selling albums.

“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” vaulted the brothers to national celebrity and was awarded the 1968 Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical or Variety Series (40 years later, in 2008, Tom Smothers was belatedly recognized with an individual Emmy Award for his significant contributions to television history). Following their sudden termination by CBS, the Smothers Brothers performed in dinner theater across the country, starred on Broadway and toured their live musical comedy act for more than three decades, including acclaimed performances at the Chautauqua Institution and Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown. They retired from public performance in 2010.


Multimedia access link includes HD video coverage from the day, interviews, photo ops, still photos and the press release – access here: