'Forward Into the Past' is the comedy icons' new show.
By Richard Metzger
October 8, 2009
The Library of Congress called the Firesign Theatre "the Beatles of
Comedy" when its 1970 album "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the
Pliers" was selected for the National Recording Registry.
An apt comparison, considering that, along with contemporaries Monty
Python in Britain, the searing and psychedelic satirical troupe
helped invent a literary brand of album comedy that lodged itself in
the culture of college students across the country. The group paved
the way for later arrivals such as Cheech & Chong, "Saturday Night
Live" and Second City.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of one of its most popular
characters, detective Nick Danger, Third Eye, the four-man troupe
makes a rare local appearance next week, performing Oct. 14 to 17 at
the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre with a new show, "Forward Into the Past."
Although the group started in Los Angeles in 1966, this will be the
first time it has performed in its hometown in more than 15 years.
"We've been together for 43 years. We've been together longer than
the Stones, longer than anybody," member Peter Bergman said.
Hollywood voice-over actor (and "Big Brother" announcer) Philip
Proctor arches an eyebrow and shrugs. "We started in the '60s and now
we're all entering our 70s. . .," he added, whistling.
The Firesign Theatre's psychedelic "theater of the mind" took shape
in the North Hollywood studios of radio station KPFK. Bergman's
late-night Radio Free Oz show eventually included KPFK producers
David Ossman and Philip Austin, along with Proctor, who Bergman met
as a student at Yale. The group began performing as the Firesign
Theatre, a reference to the fact that all four members were
astrological fire signs. The group has been nominated for Grammys three times.
"We honed our craft on live radio," recalls Ossman. "When we got into
the studio to record our first album, 'Waiting for the Electrician or
Someone Like Him,' we were creating something for people to listen to
more than once. We made albums to sit on the shelf alongside 'Rubber
Soul,' 'Highway 61' and 'Absolutely Free.' "
Austin, who plays Nick Danger, adds, "We were born here. There have
always been a lot of smart people in Hollywood and we built our
reputation on entertaining them."
"Forward Into the Past" will feature a selection of the Firesign
Theatre's greatest hits and new material. The Nick Danger character
first appeared on the group's second album, "How Can You Be in Two
Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?" in 1969. In the new
show's second act, inspired by Barnsdall's Shakespeare Company, the
members will be presenting scenes from "Shakespeare's Lost Comedie:
Anythynge You Want To." After each show, the group will sign
autographs and mingle with fans, bringing to mind the old Danger
quip, "Well, now the gum's on the other shoe."
Firesign Theatre's 'Forward Into the Past'
Where: Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Oct 14 to 17
Price: $60, general; $75, premium.
Contact: (323) 644-6272; www.firesigntheatre.com