I know what you’re thinking, “Here he goes again, prattling on and on about some obscure comedy group. I wish he would keep his Thorazine prescription up-to-date.”
Well, go ahead and think what you will, I’m going to prattle. Hopefully, the stain will come out of the carpet.
It’s true, I’m excited! And the hyperbole is bubbling in my soul like a kindergartener blowing into his chocolate milk through a silly straw. The legendary Firesign Theatre will be performing right here in River City! That’s right, Peorgie and Mudhead, Nick Danger, Babe, Ralph Spoilsport, George Tirebiter and an assortment of Bozos, Bozoettes, Berserkers and Zips will be shaking the corn starch off their cues and putting ‘em there beside the cellophane to dry on the stage of our own, historic, Cascade Theatre.
The four men who make up the Firesign Theatre (Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, Philip Proctor and David Ossman) have been writing, performing and spinning their surrealistic yarns together for more than 40 years. They’ve sold millions of albums, been nominated for Grammies and have even had their work enshrined in the Library of Congress (where they were hailed as “The Beatles of Comedy.”) They have influenced their contemporaries as well as a generation of comedians. They are, without doubt, the most brilliant comedy team you don’t know.
If you don’t recognize their name it’s understandable. Spawned from Los Angeles radio in the late 60s, the group was content to weave their intricate “theater-of-the-mind” audio plays in the recording studio. Signed to Columbia Records in 1968, the group’s first effort, Waiting For The Electrician Or Someone Like Him became a staple on turntables in college dorm rooms across the country. It laid the groundwork for a series of mind-bending recordings that have to this date been unequaled. With complete freedom and unlimited studio time courtesy of their label, The 4 or 5 Crazee Guys felt no creative need to tour or make television appearances, aside from some insanely clever late-night commercials for Los Angeles area car dealership Jack Poet Volkswagen. They continued to do radio for the then-burgeoning “underground” stations with their “Dear Friends” and “Hour Hour” programs. (Note: WFMU, the freeform radio/Internet station, is rebroadcasting shows from 1971-72 for the next 16 weeks, Tuesday afternoons at 4 pm, PST. Go to wfmu.org for more info). Over the ensuing decades they have undertaken only a few national tours and have taken several long “vacations,” which hasn’t helped in the name-recognition department. Redding is the last stop on a brief “I-5 corridor tour” that found them in Portland, Eugene and Ashland in the past few weeks.
Their recent shows, though based on some of their more familiar pieces, is by no means a “nostalgia act.” The fluidity of their writing and premises make adapting their work to today’s world as easy as wolfing down grub cakes using your entrenching tool. The tricky part is not veering too far astray from the original as audiences enjoy “singing along” with beloved bits like “Nick Danger, Third Eye” and “High School Madness.”
The Guys themselves have remained on the cutting edge of our culture and are astute observers and commentators on the day’s events. If you’d like proof, I suggest you visit radiofreeoz.com and listen to Bergman and co-host Ossman take off on BP, Obama, Tea-Baggers and other current events with the same keen wit and biting satire that was the hallmark of the original Radio Free Oz show back in 1966-67.
I think you can understand why I’m giddy with anticipation as the show on Saturday (June 26) draws nigh. (Click here for ticket information.) I’ve got my wig on tight, my nose wheezer is wheezing and my shoes are inflated. I hope you’ll join me in the audience. If you sit near me, don’t worry, I’ll try not to prattle … but I can’t promise.
Some suggested listening:
Waiting For The Electrician or Someone Like Him (1968), How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All (1969), Don’t Crush That Dwarf Hand Me The Pliers (1970), I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus (1971), Dear Friends (1972), Not Insane! (1972), The Tale Of The Giant Rat of Sumatra (1974), Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974), In The Next World You’re On Your Own (1975), Just Folks … A Firesign Chat (1977), Fighting Clowns (1980), Anythynge You Want To (1993), Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death (1998), Bride Of Firesign (2001), Box of Danger (2008)
Available on firesigntheatre.com, Amazon, Laugh! And other fine sites.
Phil Fountain is a cartoonist, writer and occasional bed-wetter based in the far reaches of Northern Californey.