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Smothers & Schickele: We Lose Two Vastly Different Comic Geniuses Within Weeks Of Each Other

Long before the movie "Mighty Wind," which skewered the entire genre of '60s era folk music and the many overly serious documentaries made about it, Tom and Dick Smothers had already made a career of it. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old when my parents brought home "The Smothers Brothers at the Purple Onion" album, which was loaded with Tommy's goofy song introductions and his inevitable interruptions of Dick, the straight man of the two who could never get through a song without Tom mocking the song in some hilarious way. Just one example: Dick was introducing the song "Daniel Boone," in which he described Boone as a "trader and a trapper." Tommy agreed, saying "yes, he was a trailer and a tractor."

I couldn't get enough of it, and wanted every Smothers Brothers record I could get so I could laugh. Twenty years passed, and then I laughed even harder at the very adult double-entendres the Smothers laced their act with. They went on to even greater notoriety with cutting-edge television that got them fired from their weekly show on CBS due to their constant testing of the censors of the day. For the nearly 60 years they performed, their comedy was edgy, political, naughty -- and it made two generations laugh uproariously.

Maybe four years after first hearing the Smothers Brothers, a friend gave my family a record entitled "P.D.Q. Bach On The Air." It featured a gentleman named Peter Schickele who was playing the role of a radio disc jockey who featured the music of P.D.Q. Bach, described as the "oddest of Johann Sebastian Bach's 20-odd children." We had never heard of P.D.Q. Bach up to that point, but it only took a couple of minutes of listening to "The Echo Sonata For Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments" for me and my mom to dissolve into gales of laughter. We began to realize that Peter Schickele, a Juilliard School trained musician who would have preferred being a serious composer, simply could not help himself as he lampooned every established classical music tradition with gloriously named sendups such as "Concerto For Horn and Hardart," the grand oratorio "The Seasonings," and the madrigal "My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth." The beauty of the music was that anyone could enjoy the oddball sounds coming from the orchestra; but if you had any classical music training or appreciation, the humor went even deeper.

Tom died Dec. 26; Peter passed Jan. 16. Within just a couple of weeks of each other, we lost two funnymen that I have grown up with and laughed with for the last 50 years. Life won't seem quite the same without them. The way they each went about getting laughs could not have been more different: One relied on garbled syntax, faux stupidity and unrelenting satire; the other almost exclusively on music that flouted every accepted rule, making us laugh when it jarred our musical senses.

I will miss them. I hope many generations to come will laugh at their very different kinds of genius.


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