George Clooney and his Smokehouse producing partner Grant Heslov have optioned Dangerously Funny, David Bianculli’s account of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Additionally, they have hired Brian Hecker (Bart Got a Room) and Craig Sherman (New Suit) to write the adaptation. I always prefer a biopic that focuses on a specific period of time rather than try to arc out an entire lifetime. So I am encouraged that the book appears to focus on the three years the show was on the air (1967-69), which will be plenty for the movie.
Created by Tom and Dick Smothers, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour featured skits, the brothers’ folk songs, and popular music acts like George Harrison, Ray Charles, and in an infamous appearance, The Who. It quickly evolved into the go-to show for edgy, incisive comedy at the height of the Vietnam War era, especially for young audiences. The writing staff proved to be a breeding ground for future comedy greats like Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, and Rob Reiner. The brothers were constantly in conflict with the network censors over criticism of the president and the war, until CBS finally cancelled the series in 1969. More, including a synopsis of the book and clips from the show, after the jump.
Deadline says, “It’s too early to determine whether or not Clooney will star or direct.” I would love to see Clooney at the helm, though the subject matter may be a retread after Good Night, and Good Luck, in which a television personality on CBS invites controversy due to his public views on a political figure. But Clooney should not star. The elder brother, Tom, was 32 when the show signed off the air. Clooney just turned 50. Thankfully, Clooney has not yet cast himself in the lead of one of his dramas. He is always a figure of authority on the periphery: the CIA agent in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the co-producer in Good Night, and Good Luck, the presidential candidate in The Ides of March. There will be a role for Clooney in this project if he wants it—perhaps the head of the network censors.
That raises the question of who should be cast as the brothers. Based on looks alone, I see a little bit of Joseph-Gordon Levitt in Dick Smothers, and maybe Ryan Reynolds as Tom. As for other casting: bring back Frank Langella from his Good Night role as CBS president William S. Paley.
Here’s the synopsis for Dangerously Funny, followed by a few Comedy Hour clips.
Tom and Dick Smothers had confrontations with CBS censors when they did their satirical television series from 1967 to 1969. To write this authoritative and entertaining examination of a comedic cornerstone, TV critic Bianculli (Teleliteracy) interviewed scores of producers and performers. He reveals what went on behind the cameras and also probes the generational, artistic, and moral duels being fought in the ’60s. He opens with the childhood of the brothers (and sister) when their father became a WWII POW fatality. After high school and college bands, the brothers rode the folk music wave into San Francisco’s Purple Onion, switched to comedy at Aspen, and recorded their debut comedy album in 1960, exploding into fame on Jack Paar’s Tonight show. After the failure of their 1965–1966 CBS sitcom, they went full throttle when their variety series, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, began taping in 1967, pushing boundaries musically, comically, satirically, politically and courting controversy. They strove for topicality while CBS scrambled to avoid it: For CBS, almost every mention of religion, sex, drugs, politics, and war was anathema. [Amazon]
Harmonized comedy is the greatest kind of comedy.
“Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Steve Martin!”
And The Who incident, where things blow up more than they are supposed to at the end.