Tom Smothers, the older half of the comic folk duo the Smothers Brothers, whose skits and songs on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in the late 1960s brought political satire and a spirit of youthful irreverence to network television, paving the way for shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show,” died on Tuesday at his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., a city in Sonoma County. He was 86.
He died “following a recent battle with cancer,” a spokesman for the National Comedy Center announced on behalf of the family.
The Smothers Brothers made their way to network television as a folk act with a difference. With Tom playing guitar and Dick playing stand-up bass, they spent as much time bickering as singing.
With an innocent expression and a stammering delivery, Tom would try to introduce their songs with a story, only to be picked at by his skeptical brother. As frustration mounted, he would turn, seething, and often deliver a trademark non sequitur: “Mom always liked you best.”
Hoping to reach a younger audience, CBS gave the brothers creative control over “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” a one-hour variety show that made its debut in February 1967. For the next three seasons it courted controversy as it addressed American policy in Vietnam, religious fundamentalism, racial strife and recreational drug use.
Running features like Leigh French’s “Share a Little Tea With Goldie,” replete with drug references, either delighted or scandalized, depending on the age and the politics of the viewer.
“During the first year, we kept saying the show has to have something to say more than just empty sketches and vacuous comedy,” Mr. Smothers said in a 2006 interview. “So we always tried to put something of value in there, something that made a point and reflected what was happening out in the streets.”
Tom, more liberal than his brother and largely responsible for the production of the show, brought in writers attuned to the thinking of the Baby Boom generation — among them Rob Reiner, Steve Martin, Pat Paulsen, and Mason Williams — and stretched the boundaries of taste at every turn.
A full obituary will be published shortly.