Full indecent disclosure.
I cannot be impartial in describing the Firesign Theatre. I cannot be definitive. And I am not responsible, for those familiar with these four owners of vast tracts of comedic surreal estate in recordings, video, film, and the stage would agree: Phil Proctor, Peter Bergman, Phil Austin and David Ossman are conceptually in another world while inhabiting this one. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of their most popular pieces, the far noir "Nick Danger, Third Eye," Firesign shall run laughshod Oct. 14-17, in an increasingly rare live performance at Hollywood's Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.
My first headlong dive face forward into the Firesign past came at San Francisco State, where a group of actors, as an assignment, recreated the Nick Danger segment from their album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once when You're Not Anywhere At All. Its success led to my creating a comedy group called the Burlingame Philharmonic Orchestra. By the time the '80s rolled around, I met my friend Alex Adams, who had a comedy radio show on low-powered and undernourished NPR affiliate KALW in San Francisco. I insisted we interview Firesign every year they came up to do Halloween shows in the Bay Area.
And so, how can I be journalistically objective, when their material has so impacted me, when their lives and mine have satirically smacked foreheads over lo these many years? I remember Bergman walking me outside a San Francisco club, after an interview and before a show, only to see a long line of Firesign fans waiting to get in.
"All you people in line for the Firesign Theatre," he bellowed, making them whip their collective heads in our direction, "forget them. They're not any good! You should go see James Taylor tonight at the Oakland Coliseum!"
I recall Ossman, directing my radio adaptation of Ray Bradbury's story "The One Who Waits," at the Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop in Missouri, showing me a piece of equipment that amazingly made the lead actress' voice sound like droplets of water inside a well.
I still see my first live Firesign show in my mind, at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium, and the four Crazee Guys improvising like mad, after the scripted show, leading to Austin remarking on the lack of parking in Berkeley, "Hey, is the name of this place Severe Tire Damage University?"
Or Proctor and his wife Melinda, simultaneously kissing me on each cheek while buying an armful of my theatrical disasters compendium, Stop the Show!, (which they contributed to) at a book launch party.
I may not be objective but I can say that the world's trippiest troupe has shown stunning innovation in the way they stage their work and their recorded comedy is more layered and imaginative than a dozen James Joyces on peyote.
Rabid Firesign fans tend to yell out familiar phrases they've memorized, during a concert. I never have. It's hard for me to make everyone in the house hear lines like this from the time-shifting trial scene in "High School Madness:" "The accursed will be advised of the absence of his rights under the Secret Military Code of Toughness and will act accordingly!"
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