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The Firesign Theatre (also known as The Firesigns)[1][2] were an American surreal comedy group who first performed live on Los Angeles radio stations KPPC-FM and KPFK during the mid-1960s. They produced thirteen record albums and a single under contract to Capitol Records from 1968 through 1976, and had several nationally syndicated radio programs during that period, the most famous of which was Dear Friends. They also appeared in front of live audiences, and continued to write, perform, and record on other labels through 2010, occasionally taking sabbaticals during which they wrote or performed solo or in smaller groups.

The Firesign Theatre
Memorial for Peter Bergman 03.jpg
Surviving members of the Firesign Theatre paying tribute to the late Peter Bergman on April 21, 2012; left to right: Austin, Ossman, Proctor
Medium
  • Radio
  • recording
  • film
Nationality American
Years active 1966–2012
Genres
Subject(s)
Notable works and roles
Members
Website www.firesigntheatre.com

Firesign Theatre material was conceived, written, and performed by its members Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor. The group's name stems from astrology, because all four were born under the three "fire signs": Aries (Austin), Leo (Proctor), and Sagittarius (Bergman and Ossman). They acquired an enthusiastic following in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

One of the group's most popular early albums, the 1970 Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, was added to the National Recording Registry of the US Library of Congress (LOC) in 2005. [3] In the induction, the LOC called the group "The Beatles of comedy."[4]

Contents

StyleEdit

The Firesign Theatre employs a stream of consciousness style that includes direct references to movies, radio, TV, political figures, and other cultural sources, intermingled with sound effects and bits of music. The resulting stories—including the theft of a high school, a fair of clowns and holograms, and aliens who use hemp-smoking to turn people into crows—border on psychedelia, an effect intensified by the frequent appearance of mock "advertisements" satirizing real products.

The Firesign approach to comedy was strongly influenced by The Goon Show. All four original Firesign members have spoken of their admiration for this show. Said Ossman:

We all listened to The Goon Show, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, at various times in our lives. We heard a lot of those shows. They impressed us when we started doing radio ourselves, because they sustained characters in a really surreal and weird kind of situation for a long period of time. They were doing that show for 10 years, all the way through the 1950s. So we were just listening to them at the end. It was that madness and the ability to go anywhere and do anything and yet sustain those funny characters. So when we first did written radio, where we would sit down and write half hour skits and do them once a week, which we did in the fall of 1967, we did things that were imitative of The Goon Show and learned a lot of voices from them and such.[5][6]

While their stream of consciousness style has the feel of improvisational comedy, most of the material is tightly scripted and memorized. The group's writing method demands the consent of all four members before a line can be included.[7] Much of their work (including all of their Columbia LPs, now on CD) has been copyrighted under the name "4 or 5 Krazy Guys."

Other projectsEdit

 
Philip Proctor (left) and Peter Bergman (right), 1976

In September 1967, The Firesign Theatre performed an adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges' short story "La Muerte y La Brujula" ("Death and the Compass") on Radio Free Oz.

Columbia Records staff producer Gary Usher used the Firesign Theatre's audio collages on songs by The Byrds ("Draft Morning") and Sagittarius (the 45 RPM version of "Hotel Indiscreet") in 1967 and 1968.

In 1969, they created a number of improvised television commercials for Jack Poet Volkswagen in Highland Park, California, with the characters of Christian Cyborg (Peter Bergman), Coco Lewis (Philip Proctor), Bob Chicken (Phil Austin), and Tony Gomez (David Ossman).[8]

Between September 9, 1970 and February 17, 1971, they performed a one-hour live series, produced by Bill McIntyre, on radio station KPFK in Los Angeles entitled Dear Friends. These live programs were recorded and then edited into slightly shorter shows which were syndicated to radio stations across the country on 12" LP albums. The group later collected what they considered the best segments from the series for their fifth album, Dear Friends.

In 1972 and 1974, Straight Arrow Press, Rolling Stone's book publishing arm, published two books authored by the Firesign Theatre. These books, The Firesign Theatre's Big Book of Plays and The Firesign Theatre's Big Mystery Joke Book, feature background information, satirical introductions and parodic histories, as well as transcripts from their first seven albums. Apocalypse Papers, also authored by the group and published by a small press, was limited to an edition of only 500 copies.

In 1996, Peter Bergman began placing radio-show-like comedy sound bites on his own Internet-based comedy radio station, www.rfo.net. "The show will be the Internet's funny bone," Bergman said.[9]

In 2008, the Firesign Theatre released a four-CD boxed set based on their most famous character, Nick Danger—"Third Eye." It was compiled from various radio shows, albums and fan recordings that were sent in via their website.

Group dynamicsEdit

During the mid-1970s, members of the group went in separate directions. Firesign productions continued sporadically, but Proctor and Bergman[10] performed as a duo; while Austin and Ossman worked individually and together in a few stage shows (most notably in the writing and production of In the Next World, You're on Your Own.) In the mid-1980s, Ossman temporarily left the group to produce shows for National Public Radio.

The group's recordings through 1975 were originally released by Columbia Records.

Later workEdit

The Firesign Theatre's most recent performances were a series of live performances in December 2011.[11] They claimed to be the longest surviving group from the "classic rock" era to still be intact with the original members (at the time of the claim in 2011, 45 years).[12]

Peter Bergman died on March 9, 2012, from complications involving leukemia,[13] and Phil Austin died on June 18, 2015, from cancer.

MediaEdit

RadioEdit

AlbumsEdit

FilmsEdit

  • Zachariah (co-written by Firesign Theatre) (92 min., 1971) Comedy western, inspired by the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha
  • Martian Space Party (Firesign Theatre with Campoon workers) (27 min., 1972)
  • Love is Hard to Get (Peter Bergman) (26 min., 1973)
  • Let's Visit the World of the Future (44 min., 1973) based on charaacters from I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus, directed by Ivan Stang)
  • Six Dreams (Peter Bergman - executive producer, Phil Proctor) (13 min., 1976)
  • Tunnel Vision (featuring Phil Proctor) (70 min., 1976)
  • Everything You Know is Wrong (40 min., 1978) lip-synch to the album
  • TV or Not TV (33 min., 1978) lip-synch to the Proctor and Bergman album
  • Americathon (86 min., 1979) Based on a sketch created by Proctor and Bergman
  • J-Men Forever (75 min., 1979) Proctor and Bergman; compilation of Republic Science Fiction serial clips with new dialogue overdubbed
  • The Madhouse of Dr. Fear (60 min., 1979)
  • Nick Danger in The Case of the Missing Yolk (60 min., 1983) Originally an Interactive Video, Pacific Arts PAVR-527; broadcast on the USA Network series Night Flight
  • Eat or be Eaten (30 min., 1985) Austin, Bergman, and Proctor, RCA Columbia 60566
  • Hot Shorts (73 min., 1985) Austin, Bergman, and Proctor, RCA Columbia 60435
  • Back from the Shadows (1994)
  • Firesign Theatre Weirdly Cool DVD Movie (2001)

BooksEdit

  • The Firesign Theatre's Big Book Of Plays. San Francisco: Straight Arrow, 1972.
  • The Firesign Theatre's Big Mystery Joke Book. San Francisco: Straight Arrow, 1974.
  • The Apocalypse Papers, a Fiction by The Firesign Theatre. Topeka: Apocalypse Press, 1976.
  • George Tirebiter's Radiodaze (1989 Sparks Media) a solo cassette by Ossman
  • The George Tirebiter Story Chapter 1: Another Christmas Carol (1989, Sparks Media) by Ossman
  • The George Tirebiter Story Pt.2 Mexican Overdrive / Radiodaze (1989 Company One) by Ossman
  • The George Tirebiter Story Pt.3 The Ronald Reagan Murder Case (1990 Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop) by Ossman
  • Backwards Into the Future: The Recorded History of the Firesign Theatre. Albany: Bearmanor Media, 2006.

GamesEdit

  • In 1983 Mattel released two Intellivision video games with Intellivoice: Bomb Squad, with Proctor as the voice of Frank and Bergman as the voice of Boris; and B-17 Bomber, with Proctor as the voice of the Pilot and Austin as the Bombardier.[14]
  • In 1996, a computer game written by Bergman, Pyst, a parody of the game Myst, was released by Parroty Interactive.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Peter Bergman: Remembering The 'Firesign' Satirist". National Public Radio. March 12, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2017. 
  2. ^ Harvey, Doug (December 5, 2001). "Firesigns of Life". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved November 15, 2017. 
  3. ^ Wendy Maloney (September 29, 2017). "Firesign Theatre Comedians Share Their Story". blogs.loc.gov. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 16, 2017. 
  4. ^ Dan Bacalzo (September 17, 2009). "Firesign Theatre to Celebrate Creation of Nick Danger with Forward, Into The Past". TheaterMania. Los Angeles. Retrieved November 16, 2017. 
  5. ^ "FIREZINE #4: Under the Influence of the Goons". Firezine.net. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  6. ^ Ventham, Maxine (2002). Spike Milligan: His Part In Our Lives. London: Robson. ISBN 1-86105-530-7. 
  7. ^ Tickets.com Archived April 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "Jack Poet Volkswagen commercials : Firesign Theatre : Free Download & Streaming: Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  9. ^ PeterBergman; Filmkauai.com Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ "Proctor and Bergman | Bottom Line | New York, NY | Jun 8, 1978 | Late Show - wolfgangsvault.com". Concerts.wolfgangsvault.com. 1978-06-08. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  11. ^ Official website announcement, retrieved August 30, 2011
  12. ^ "Firesign Theatre Still an Original After 45 Years « Audio Eclecticism in the 60s". Davidgordonschmidt.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  13. ^ "Peter Bergman, Firesign Theatre founder, dies at 72 | 89.3 KPCC". Scpr.org. 2012-03-09. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  14. ^ Voices; Intellivisionlives.com

SourcesEdit

  • Official website 19 January 2006
  • Firezine.net FAQ, 23 January 2006
  • Marsh, Dave, and Greil Marcus. "The Firesign Theatre." The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1983. 175–176.
  • Smith, Ronald L. The Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide. Iola: Krause, 1996.

Further readingEdit

  • Marciniak, Vwadek P., Politics, Humor and the Counterculture: Laughter in the Age of Decay (New York etc., Peter Lang, 2008).
  • Ossman, David. Dr. Firesign's Follies: Radio, Comedy, Mystery, History. (Albany: BearManor Media) (2008) ISBN 978-1-59393-148-3
  • Ossman, David. The Ronald Reagan Murder Case: A George Tirebiter Mystery. (Albany: BearManor Media) (2006) ISBN 1-59393-071-2
  • Wiebel, Jr, Frederick C. Backwards into the Future - The Firesign Theatre. Albany: BearManor Media, (2005). ISBN 1-59393-043-7
  • Santoro, Gene. Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock & Country Music. (New York: Oxford University Press) (2004) ISBN 978-0-19-515481-8

External linksEdit