One of the most pleasant aesthetic experiences is to revisit something you loved in your youth, and find that it’s even better than you remembered it. When I was a boy, I absolutely loved the Smothers Brothers — the mix of hip comedy and folk and pop music with a gentle, non-threatening style was pitch perfect. Time Life recently released the three-disc box set The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 2 – and, indeed, the material holds up very well after more than four decades. The brothers’ coming timing is perfect, and some of the guests are amazing – for example The Who, in their early period, Pete Seeger [pre-emptive note to e-mailers: Yes, I disapprove of his politics] and the velvet-voiced James Mason. Impressionist David Frye does an OK Bill Buckley (not as good as Joe Flaherty’s) but a terrific LBJ, and even an effective Bobby Kennedy: “People say I sound like Bugs Bunny. It’s not true. Bugs Bunny sounds like me.” (It comes as bit of a shock, actually, after 42 years of his being hallowed in the national memory, to see RFK mocked by a comedian just like the regular old working politician that he was in life.)
Most of all, it’s the wholesomeness of the show that impresses the viewer so many years later. These guys may have been “radical,” with their jokes about pot and their opposition to the Vietnam War, but they certainly conveyed a clean-cut boys-next-door affect that made them quite different from the stereotypical left-wing activist of the period. Watching Dick Smothers, in his moustache-less period, playing the straight-man role, the thought nagged me, Who is it that he looks like? And then it struck me: Raymond Arroyo. Now, there is a continuum of styles of personal appearance, of which one end is defined by the tie-dyed, long-bearded hippie of 1967, and the other by Arroyo. The Smothers Brothers combined many of the attitudes of the first with the basic innocence of the second. It was, and is, a winsome combination.