Variety shows once ruled the airwaves of America, and much like the reality shows and talent shows of today, the variety shows had their antecedents in the 1950s. As the name would imply, variety shows were a smattering of everything, from comedy sketches to musical groups, song and dance, animal acts, comedians, and plate twirlers. Not surprisingly, The Doors appeared on the major variety shows of the 1960s, including The Smothers Brothers show.
Tommy Smothers and Jim Morrison
The Smothers Brothers were controversial because their comedy poked fun at “the establishment” and they clearly sided with the young and hip. If Ed Sullivan was known for censoring his guests, the Smothers Brothers were known for giving their guests free reign, and their show was notable for contentious performances. At one point, in September 1967, they became the first network program to host Pete Seeger since his blacklisting in the ’50s. Seeger’s appearance generated further controversy because Seeger played “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an anti-war song that was interpreted as being an insult to President Lyndon Johnson.
The Smothers Brothers were also popular with “the kids” because they hosted the rock groups that other shows wouldn’t touch, like The Who, Cream, Buffalo Springfield, and, of course, The Doors. In the opening segment of the show that featured The Doors, Tommy and Dick came onstage, and Tommy began putting on a gas mask and motorcycle helmet. Dick asked Tommy what he was doing, and Tommy replied, “Getting ready to go to college.”
The Smothers Brothers Show was also a breeding ground for a new generation of comedians. Writers on the show included Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Don Novello (who would later become Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live), Bob Einstein (Super Dave Osborne), Albert Einstein (later Albert Brooks), and Pat Paulsen.
On December 6, 1968, The Doors videotaped their appearance on the Smothers Brothers Show (some Doors sources have it as December 4, 1968), performing “Wild Child” and “Touch Me.” The segment featuring “Touch Me” is famous for a couple of reasons. The first is that The Doors appeared with part of the “La Cienega Symphony” brass and stringed instruments brought in for the recording of their fourth album, “The Soft Parade.” The second is that Doors guitarist Robby Krieger very noticeably has a black eye. A lot of rumors have surrounded the black eye, from a bar fight to a car accident, but Krieger recently said it was from a “tussle” with Jim. The Doors’ episode of The Smothers Brothers Show aired on December 15, 1968.
Originally published December 6, 2012. This article appears in “The Doors Examined”.
Addendum: If you would like to know more about The Smothers Brothers’ censorship trials and tribulations, watch “Smothered” on YouTube, and “Dangerously Funny” is an excellent retelling of The Smothers Brothers’ story.