Everyone remembers their first rock concert. Mine was the Beach Boys.
This was around 1967. You have to remember that this was the low point of their careers. Brian Wilson stopped touring, their albums were getting poor reviews, and it was looking like they were washed up.The concert was outdoors at Nassau County Community College, and it was free.
They didn’t draw 100 people.
But I’m not writing about the Beach Boys. I’m talking about their opening act, “The Uncalled For Three.” It consisted of three wild comedians, a mixture of slapstick, puns, sight gags, parody, vaudeville, and rapid-fire jokes. I loved it.
The group formed at Hofstra University on Long Island and began to find a local following and started appearing in clubs like The Bitter End and The Hungry i.* Eventually, they changed the name of the act to “The Pickle Brothers.” and toured as an opening act for the Beach Boys.**
They started appearing on variety and talk shows. Here’s their act on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966.
It was typical of their comedy, which seems much like that of Laugh-In, though faster and more frenetic. You can also see the influence of the Marx Brothers very clearly..
The group started to get attention and then tried what many comedians tried: a TV show.
They did it first class. The script was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who as a team wrote for Get Smart and the Monkees.*** The director was William Friedkin, who later went on to make The French Connection. The show included Maureen Arthur, who was memorable as Hedy LaRue in the film version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The result can be found on Youtube.
You can see the similarities in concept with The Monkees.and the result was able to keep up their anything goes style of comedy.
Alas, as you probably know, the show wasn’t picked up. The pilot was well received by audiences, but TV executives didn’t think they could keep up the quality for a full season.
The group broke up a year or so after the pilot. It’s probably difficult to keep a comedy act together once vaudeville wasn’t around. The three members went on to other things.
Peter Lee has published an ebook about their history.
*Neither are well known today, but they were the top venues for comedy and folk singing in the early 60s, breaking many stars. The Bitter End is still in operation.
**I happened to spot their act a few weeks ago on Sullivan show reruns. The name “The Pickle Brothers” meant nothing to me, but there was something very familiar about their style. A little Googling and I found out that they were, indeed, the Uncalled For Three I had seen as the Beach Boys’ opening act. It seems they kept the name “Uncalled for Three” for their touring.
****You can spot the similarities between The Monkees and the Pickle Brothers pilot. Gardner also originated the Who’s in Charge Here? series of books, which took pictures of political figures and added speech balloons. (For example, the cover of the first one showed JFK and Harry Truman, sitting together, with Truman saying “So the bathroom still leaks.”