You might think of Tom and Dick Smothers as cute old guys; a quaint, genial and humorously argumentative duo that played folk songs flavored with comedy on variety TV shows and as the stars of their own show in the ’60s. And they were that, but there’s a history to the Smothers Brothers that is easy to miss with forty years removed between their popular heyday and today.

On the face of it, the Smothers Brothers’ comedy seems incredibly tame by today’s standards. But the duo flirted with controversy for years, as they used their show to highlight emerging counterculture elements (with performances from the Who, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez) and laced their routines with satirical jabs at politics and mainstream culture of the time.

Now that sly counterculture aspect of the Smothers Brothers might be remembered once more as producing partners George Clooney and Grant Heslov have optioned the book Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story Of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to create a feature biopic about the brothers.

Deadline says that right now Clooney is just a producer; there’s the speculation that he might direct or act in the film, but we’ve got no reliable word on that front, and it’s probably way too early to call. Clooney and Heslov have set Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman to script based on David Bianculli‘s book.

Here’s the Who playing ‘My Generation’ on the Smothers Brothers’ show, complete with a much larger than normal explosion from Keith Moon’s bass drum at the end, which actually injured Moon and possibly accelerated Pete Townshend’s hearing loss.

And George Harrison’s ’68 appearance on the show. This is the one where Tommy Smothers mentioned, “you know, a lot of times we don’t have the opportunity to say anything important, because it’s American television, and when you try to say something important they, uh…” That gives you an idea of the sort of jabs the brothers would throw out once in a while.

Here’s the description of the book:

A behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” — the provocative, politically charged program that shocked the censors, outraged the White House, and forever changed the face of television.

Decades before “The Daily Show”, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” proved there was a place on television for no-holds-barred political comedy with a decidedly antiauthoritarian point of view. In this explosive, revealing history of the show, veteran entertainment journalist David Bianculli tells the fascinating story of its three-year network run — and the cultural impact that’s still being felt today.

Before it was suddenly removed from the CBS lineup (reportedly under pressure from the Nixon administration), “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was a ratings powerhouse. It helped launch the careers of comedy legends such as Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, featured groundbreaking musical acts like the Beatles and the Who, and served as a cultural touchstone for the antiwar movement of the late 1960s.

Drawing on extensive original interviews with Tom and Dick Smothers and dozens of other key players — as well as more than a decade’s worth of original research — Dangerously Funny brings readers behind the scenes for all the battles over censorship, mind-blowing musical performances, and unforgettable sketches that defined the show and its era.

David Bianculli delves deep into this riveting story, to find out what really happened and to reveal why this show remains so significant to this day.

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