Sunday, March 13, 2005

a Firesign Theatre introduction

Thanks to Niles Ritter's fabulous FIRESIGN FAQ for this excerpt:

A group of four gifted improvisational comedians and satirists, perhaps best known for several record albums they produced in the 1970s. These were famous for their depth of interaction among the characters, their range of literary allusion and references to popular culture, history and science, and the incomparable surreal quality of their pacing. Different listeners would each find different significance in the work and make different connections between themes within them. Much of their work anticipated developments in video, interactive media, computer technology and virtual reality by some 20 years.

Their initial work began on radio in Los Angeles in the mid 60's, but their James-Joycean style of dramatic satire quickly expanded to include phonograph recordings, live stage productions, movies,
books, and one of the first interactive video productions produced.
More than one fan has noted the complexity of their recordings, which derived from their use of dense layering of sound tracks, as well as their ingenious use of puns, metaphor, and other literary allusions. The FT wove intricate stories which flowed, not so much like a river, but like a rapidly evolving organism, projecting pseudopods out this way, and then that. And yet the stories always seemed to maintain its own internal logic.

None of this begins to do them any justice: we encourage you to buy one of their CDs (or old phonos) and hear for yourself. This is in fact, about the only way to really understand what the Firesign Theatre was and IS about! We're not insane!

Phil Proctor adds the following regarding their comedic influences:

Mr NOISE asked about influences on us -- Well, they would be -- including but not limited, too, Bob & Ray (who's CLASSIC B&R volume 4 actually include selections I gave to Larry Josephson
from my private NYC collection), Stan the man Freberg, Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, Olsen & Johnson, old radio, new radio, anything on television, Spike Jones, Ish Kabibble, the Amish,
Laurel&Hardy, silent comedies, cartoons, Blooper records, The Great Crepitation Contest, Johnathan and Darlene Edwards, the Goons and any English comedians living or still living, the writings of Ogden Nash and Robert Benchley, folk comedians Herb Shriner and George Goeble (sp), Charlie Weaver and uncle Dave, the Marxist Bros, Harold Lloyd, anybody who ever made a comedy album -- my god, the list could go on forever. After all, if you're into comedy, you can never get enough of it!

1.1.1) The Four or Five Crazy Guys:

Name -- Aliases, roles
Philip Austin -- Nick Danger, Hemlock Stones, etc,

Philip Proctor -- Clem, Ralph Spoilsport, the Poop, etc

David Ossman -- Porgie, Catherwood, etc

Peter Bergman -- Babe, Mudhead, Nancy...

We should also acknowledge the oft-ignored but ubiquitous female

Annalee Austin -- Operator in "Don't crush that Dwarf"

Tiny Ossman -- Announcerettes in "Bozos"

Laura Quinn -- Hawkmoth in "Eat or Be Eaten"

Others appearing in FT productions include Diane Davisson, Rodger Bumpass, Jerry Houser, Christie Houser, Susan Tanner, Cyrus Faryar, and casts of thousands.

A series of quotes from the {BBOP} book:

Philip Austin:

"I always wanted to be a part of something. Annalee and I used to secretly, separately, dream of rock and roll bands. I hadn't even *thought* yet that rock and roll could save me.

"So I was in Hollywood in 1966, starving on all levels. I got a job in a radio station because I could always do that with my voice -- could make you believe that I was committed to the words coming out of my mouth. I mistakenly believed, therefore that I was an Actor. I'm not. I'm a musician. Interesting that it was the *sounds* of the words that got to me the most. The Firesign Theatre was the vehicle that allowed me to make that discovery.

"The Firesign Theatre is a *Technique*.

"These were the people who faced me across the microphones on the radio and this is what I think of them:

"David Ossman is the first I met. The two of us are not what you'd think of right off as comedians. I was producing all these plays by dead authors -- acting, directing; got David to act, looked at the
amazing books of poetry that he'd produced -- as if he had hand-printed every page. We had wonderful conversations about the Indians. Hopi.

"Peter Bergman was the Voice that Wouldn't Die. What a talker! The Champ. I engineered _Radio Free Oz_ and appeared in a variety of stoned disguises. (This was fun. Not like acting, which is not real to me, therefore not fun.) Unlike most performers, Peter becomes *more* candid when he performs. Set him in front of a microphone and you have an angel. With most people, it's the opposite.

"Philip Proctor *is* an actor. He is also not exactly a comedian. He is not so much trying to make you laugh as he is trying to explain something to you. I have always been his friend because I admire that so much. He can go places I can't. He was a friend of Peter's who was "funny". God, ain't dat de trufe!

"So there we were, *four friends*. You see, we had no ambitions. It was a pure jam and the instrument we each played was verbal glibness or *radio*. We still continue that first conversation. This book, those recordings, are records of that conversation, a minute-book of the meeting.

"Quickly, Ambition walked in the door. I thought we were good. I'd heard some pretty fast, funny cats in my time, but these three were as good as Spike Milligan. We started hanging out with each other, gave up our jobs, found more and more ways to earn livings using each other. I got my Globe Theatre, Phil P. got a Movie Company, David got a Great Work of Literature and Peter got the Forever Radio Show.


"Yes, we take it seriously. Read [in the Big Book of Plays] Hideo Gump Sr.'s intro to each script. Laughter and Dancing, Singing and Love. We love the Firesign Theatre. How do you get along with people? What do you have to show for it? Our work is, to me, my answer to those

"What does it mean?

"1. The Firesign Theatre writes communally. Every word goes through four heads for approval. We therefore write very slowly. Our energy level is intense. Grown men leave the room when we fight with each other. Nothing is sacred.

"2. Therefore, there are considerable areas of chance (*chance*) in ur work since no overall motive is possible. All communal endeavors learn one thing, I think. *Only real things can be agreed upon*. The future is not real, therefore *motives* cannot be agreed upon. *Chance
becomes the motive*.

"What do we mean? We mean whatever's happening. ?Que paso, hombre?

*Our records are records of what happened to us during the period
we made them.

*Our records are a continuous story that will last as long as our

*May we be friends forever.

--Phil Austin (Signature)

Philip Proctor:

" I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theatre, Pocatello, Idaho. No, I was born in Goshen, Indiana. I really have spent some time analyzing it. I grew up in an essentially schizophrenic existence. I was schooled on the East Coast, because I moved there when I was five. I went to Riverdale Country School and Yale University, but during my formative years of growth -- the pubic years -- I grew up in Goshen, Indiana, with my grand parents and my neighborhood friends. Radio and comic books had a lot to do with my youth. The comic books supplied the visual element. I finally became a professional actor after college. Acting led me to The Firesign Theatre because I found New York theatre to be dumb and limited. Silly. I wanted to create my own theatre.

--Philip Proctor (Signature)

David Ossman:

"I'm a writer, a poet, which is to say I always did that. My life was totally in my head, and I wrote about it. I developed a historical sense of things and then I went into radio. Because that's what I
always wanted to do.It was one of those childhood fantasies like growing up to be a fireman. I wanted to be a radio announcer, and in 1959 I became a radio announcer. I did that for quite a while. I worked in New York at WBAI for two years and then went back to the West Coast and worked for KPFK for four years. They laid everybody off, including me, so I got a job in television, which I hated, so I dropped out of that. The Firesign Theatre appeared at the same time.

--David Ossman (Signature)

Peter Bergman:

"I owe everything I do tho my normal childhood. I had a very unrepressed childhood and I lived in the Midwest, and there were very few things to amuse myself, except softball, so I would do routines to
myself, like "Why Isn't Everybody Happy?" was one of my routines, so they kept me indoors a lot. A kid named Bruce Berger and I opened up a parking lot one night in an empty lot across from an Emporium show. We made $50 wearing Cleveland Indians baseball caps, yelling, "*Park and
Lock it! Not Responsible!*"

"My honest idea of The Firesign Theatre is four artists getting together and grouping to create some new art form, some multi-art that comes our of all four of their minds. It's an interesting choice, and that's one of the things that fascinates me. It's not a loss of identity, really. It's more a gaining of a double identity. I'm Peter Bergman and I'm one-quarter of The Firesign Theatre. And when I have
those two things together, in harmony, one feeds off the other.

--Peter Bergman (A very Floral Signature)