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End of an era: Smothers Brothers announce retirement

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Comedians Tom, left, and Dick Smothers, shown here in an August 1965 file photo, announced the end of their touring days Sunday at The Orleans.
Photo: AP

“It’s the end of an era,” a man muttered as he strolled into the Orleans Showroom greenroom. The woman next to him chuckled. “Maybe,” she added.

Both were processing the news that the Smothers Brothers announced just an hour earlier on stage: After more than 45 years of performing, the musical-comedic duo is retiring from touring. The announcement was unexpected by the near-capacity crowd, a healthy mix of locals who probably are used to seeing the longtime performers on billboards and posters every few months. Scarce media were present, though a film-production crew hired by the Brothers was there to document the landmark moment and there were plenty of family and friends, including both Brothers’ wives and Tom Smother’s teenage children.

Those confidantes knew the announcement was coming, and many came from different states to be a part of it. While some were in disbelief — it’s difficult to process change after more than 40 years of consistent performances — the atmosphere was positive, a celebration for what the Brothers feel is a new chapter in their lives.

“We’re not doing anything new,” said Dick Smothers of traveling from city to city performing. “We’re just maintaining. I look at this as the end of touring.”

A recent publicity photo of the Smothers Brothers.

Though one-off gigs or off-stage projects may continue, the Smothers Brothers’ departure from the touring life is significant. The Brothers got their start in the ’60s, performing on various television variety shows until scoring their own show, which famously was pulled from the air after bouts with censors over their opposition of the Vietnam War.

In their final performance, the Brothers acknowledged their struggle with censorship in song, defiantly singing “We’re Still Here,” much to the delight of the crowd. They also played a montage of the famous guests that appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, including the explosion-gone-awry during The Who’s live performance of “My Generation.” The laundry list of stars — Steve Martin, Jim Morrison, George Harrison and Jefferson Airplane, among others — was a stark reminder of their mark on the entertainment industry.

Their final performance wasn’t entirely about looking backward, however. In their stand-up, the Smothers Brothers proved still relevant, taking jabs at current issues such as immigration, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. They may be closing the curtain, but it isn’t because their material isn’t fresh or funny. It’s simply time to move on.

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Smothers Brothers

Dick Smothers already has new projects in mind. A bit of a techie, he wants to master Adobe Suite on his computer and play with his four decades of material; maybe try some bit acting; maybe teach. “I’m just looking forward to not having to pack up my suitcase and hit the road,” he said.

Dick confirmed that the Brothers had future touring gigs planned this year but canceled them. This retirement is the real deal, he assured, though he admits, “Nothing is ever for sure.”

The moment wasn’t overly sentimental for Dick, a sign that either it hasn’t set in or it’s truly the right time to say goodbye. “I was wondering if it would be emotional,” he conceded in the greenroom after the final performance, “But that to me was just another day in the office.”

“It’s like the last time you make love to a woman. You wouldn’t want to know it was the last time, you’d be thinking, ‘Oh, no! No more fucking.’ That would ruin the moment.”

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