Sunday 11 Dec 2016

Tim and Tom: not funny
dr george pollard

Heres the premise. A comedy duo, featuring one Black and one White member, forms, in Chicago. They work hard and flop. Later, on their own, both members succeed, wildly.

We must have been crazy, says Tom Dreesen, of the idea to form Tim and Tom, in 1969.

Black audiences wanted laughs. White audiences, weaned on Lenny Bruce, wanted political material, with a message. Mixed audiences left early.

We wanted to make a difference, says Dreesen. If only by overcoming the poverty and prejudice we came from and experienced, every day.

The bits that caught on were two: The Superspade and the Courageous Caucasian and The Dating Game Parody. Reid and Dreesen performed all over American, often for bewildered audiences. Top pay was $750, split two ways: Tim and Tom.

It wasnt going to work, says Tim Reid. We took on the hatred and fears, which dominated American, in 1970. The pain was too great. We werent going to ease it.

After three assassinations, in five years, says Reid, it was too much. "It was too much for the country; too much for [Tom and I] to overcome. Youd think thered be a built in desire [for Americans] to come together, but there wasnt. We couldn't create the desire, either.

Reid and Dreesen met, in Chicago, through the Jaycees. Dreesen gave drug education presentations to grade school students. Reid joined him. They used humour to get the message across.

People, who knew nothing of entertainment urged them they should work up a comedy act. They did. Their friendship went downhill, almost immediately.

After five years criss-crossing America, doing one-nighters, a week here or a weekend there, Tim and Tom fell apart. The bitter arguments, fist-a-cuffs and abject poverty were too much. Best friends, once, neither could tolerate the other. Each was in the cross-hairs, of the others blame. The split was bitter.

Still, says Dreesen, all these years later, we remain friends. Reid introduced Dreesen to Kris Kenny, a talent booker for the Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson. The Carson show bumped Tom three times. Sorry," Kenny would tell Dreesen. "Were out of time. Can you come back next week?

The fourth booking was golden. Dreesen did five minutes, on Carson, and his career took off. Reid, if indirectly, gave Dreesen his career.

On their own, Reid and Dreesen each found much success. Reid portrayed Venus Flytrap, on WKRP in Cincinnati; Downtown Brown, the police detective, on Simon and Simon; Ray Campbell, the dad, on Sister, Sister, and, to his most critical acclaim, Frank Parish, on Franks Place. Reid also created and produced Franks Place.

Dreesen is a skilled comedian. For fourteen years, he opened for Frank Sinatra and other members of the "Rat Pack." I still tell jokes, says Dreesen. He continues to do 200 or more shows a year. Life is great, he says.

After nearly forty years, Tim and Tom reformed, in a sense, to create a book. Given their resumes, expectations, for the book, are necessarily high. Despite able help, from former sports columnist, Ron Rapoport, Tim and Tom is disjointed, choppy and boring.

Intended as a hilarious recollection, the book, like the comedy duo, flops. Not much goes on in the book. The juicy tidbits are too few and too far apart.

Facts, of a sort, appear as raindrops, sprinkled across the book. As a career move, Reid dumped his first wife to move in with Della Reese, a top star, of the day, with many connections. Dreesen, at the time, called an immobile Nash Rambler, parked behind a garage, home, and ate one meal, of grease and spices, a day.

Sequence passes for a storyline. Ostensibly, anecdotes and recollections form a time line, but it's hard to confirm. Sometimes, chapter titles offer hints about the story or time line; chapters, in "Tim and Tom," are untitled and there's no index, either. A non-fiction book without an index is an eunuch at an orgy.

Reid and Dreesen routinely drop names, most likely to return favours. Mitzi Shore, the most influential and invisible force in USA comedy, almost gets her due. Carl Reiner and Bob Guccioni are mentioned, in passing, but not enough background is given for most anyone under 30 to understand the importance of these men.

Reading, Tim and Tom, a sense develops about how they created the book. Reid and Dreesen recorded fading memories and anecdotes, separately. Rapoport struggled to pull the ramblings together, fashioning a compromise. The book almost finds a voice, but, as Tim and Tom, the comedy duo, it never crosses the finish line.

There's no evidence of intentional shoddiness; the best of intentions is safely assumed. Still, the book reads as committee work. A camel is a horse designed by a committee.


Tim and Tom, the book, flops for the same reasons the comedy duo flopped. There are few laughs. The content is dull. The meaning is muted.

Their anecdotes have a familiarity. Too many others have told and retold versions, of the same tales, since Vaudeville ruled, a 100 years ago. Nor is much meaning drawn from the experiment or experiences, of the comedy duo. The mixed audiences had it right, leave early.

The pairing, of Reid and Dreesen, in comedy, seems more a mistake than the victim of poor timing, as they claim. This part, of their story, in particular, needs more depth. Was it Reid and Dreesen that didn't work out or the idea, of a mixed ethnic comedy team? Might the idea, of Black and a White forming a comedy term, have worked for others, at the time? Might it work, for others, today? Too many questions go unasked, in "Tim and Tom."

The pairing, of Reid and Dreesen, to write a book flops, too. Actors, such as Reid, work scripts. Comics, such as Dreesen, are more spontaneous. When you put an actor and a comedian, in an act or a book, with built in troubling issues, such as ethnicity, the result is inevitably weak, inchoate and deeply dissatisfying.

Theres little, in Tim and Tom, to recommend. A great idea is twice stillborn. Wait until Reid and Dreesen each write a book, separately. Those will be gems, worth the wait and twice the price.

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Click here to buy Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, which is published by the University of Chicago Press. Release date was September 2008. There are 237 pages, with photographs. ISBN: 9780226709000.

dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.

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