Sit-down comedy


The ‘sixties and early ‘seventies were not a time for the faint of heart. We were involved in an unpopular war, our politicians were faltering, and us young folks were rebelling. But in spite of it all, we kept on laughing, primarily due to some great comedians.

The Smothers Brothers were real-life brothers. Tom Smothers was the oldest and acted as the slow, inferior brother. Dick Smothers acted as the smarter, superior brother. Their act included singing folk music, Tommy playing the acoustic guitar, Dick the bass. Their monologue was wrapped around the song. They became best known for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which played on TV from 1967-69. It was one of the most controversial television shows of the time, keeping the censors busy. The brothers constantly pushed the boundaries. The show highlighted young comedy talent, including Don Novello, Steve Martin, Sally Struthers, Pat Paulsen, and Leigh French. My wife and I met Pat Paulsen in the summer of 1972. He was at the Cherry Blossom Festival, in Traverse City, Michigan. He ran for President, as I remember, three times. Nineteen seventy-two was one of those times. We told him he had our votes, that it seemed appropriate that a comedian should be President. He was in total agreement. Musical acts on the show included the biggest of the day, with Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, and Joan Baez doing anti-war songs, and such other acts as The Doors; Jefferson Airplane; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and The Who. Both brothers remain alive and continue to perform. They appeared at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts earlier this year. As the report goes, they haven't missed a beat.

Richard Pryor was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. His mother was a prostitute in his grandmother’s brothel. Pryor's comedy was as rough as his upbringing. He had something of a hyperkinetic, free-lance, expletive-laced delivery. His subject matter included life as a Black man, the drug culture, sex, and his own life tragedies. He appeared on television on the Johnny Carson Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, and on Merv Griffin. His acting career included Jo Jo Dancer, Lady Sings The Blues, The Toy, Bustin' Loose, Which Way Is Up, and, Superman III. He wrote scripts for TV and one book. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986. He died in 2005.

Second City is a long running improvisational comedy venue in Chicago. I had a brief, personal connection to Second City in 1971-72, while in seminary. We would go to free performances on Tuesday, when the troupe practiced. My buddy and I had a mutual acquaintance with David Rasche, who made his first appeared at Second City in 1971, replacing John Belushi, who moved to Saturday Night Live. At Second City, David appeared with John Candy, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner. David later starred in Delirious, with John Candy, and had his own TV show, Sledge Hammer, which ran for two seasons. I later worked with David's father, who was a minister. While I didn't know David all that well, our time together in 1972 was sure memorable.

Comedy for baby boomers has been a conglomerate of talent. Much of it was serious, satirical comedy dealing with the issues of the day. I liked the controversial, cutting edge of it. When boomers start hitting the nursing homes, I suspect many of us old gizzards will be doing stand-up routines reminiscent of the good-old days, although we may have to be sitting down. Instead of stand-up comedy, it will be called sit-down comedy. That somehow seems appropriate.