I knew actor/director Tim Reid from his roles as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati and Ray Campbell on Sister, Sister. I knew Tom Dreesen from his frequent guest spots on The Late Show with David Letterman. What I didn’t know is that the two of them once comprised “the nation’s first black and white comedy team.” That is, until I saw this article in today’s Chicago Tribune and learned about a new book, Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, that traces their unique history.
From 1969 to 1974 (several years before Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder teamed up for their first film together), Reid and Dreesen performed at black, white, and sometimes mixed nightclubs across the country. In an era when racial humor was still too hot to handle for most folks, the duo did satirical bits such as “Superspade and the Courageous Caucasian.” Unfortunately, their act was considered too dangerous and controversial for the socially turbulent climate of the early seventies, so the pair eventually broke up. Though they each went on to achieve individual fame, they were never able to break into the top ranks of show business as a tandem.
Still, for a brief, heady period in pop culture, Reid and Dreesen were out there using comedy to defuse and illuminate the volatile subject of race in America. In their own way, they were pioneers in racial reconciliation.
Update, Sept. 20: NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday featured a nice interview with Reid and Tom this morning.