The Firesign Theatre
The Firesign Theatre (also known as The Firesigns) 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|
Surviving members of the Firesign Theatre paying tribute to the late Peter Bergman on April 21, 2012; left to right: Austin, Ossman, Proctor
|Notable works and roles||
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.  In the induction, the LOC called the group "The Beatles of comedy."
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.
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. Much of their work (including all of their Columbia LPs, now on CD) has been copyrighted under the name "4 or 5 Krazy Guys."
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).
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 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.
During the mid-1970s, members of the group went in separate directions. Firesign productions continued sporadically, but Proctor and Bergman 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.
The Firesign Theatre's most recent performances were a series of live performances in December 2011. 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).
Peter Bergman died on March 9, 2012, from complications involving leukemia, and Phil Austin died on June 18, 2015, from cancer.
- Dear Friends — Syndicated Radio Program (1970–1971)
- A Firesign Chat With Papoon (1972 Columbia)
- Let’s Eat — Syndicated Radio Program (1974)
- The Proctor-Bergman Report (1977–1978)
- The Cassette Chronichles (1980 Rhino Entertainment)–a six-cassette collection of The Firesign Theatre’s presidential and campaign commentaries which aired on NPR during the 1980 election season.)
- Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him (1968 Columbia Records)
- How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (1969 Columbia)
- Station Break / Forward Into the Past (1969 Columbia 45rpm single)
- Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970 Columbia)
- I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus (1971 Columbia)
- Dear Friends (1972 Columbia)
- Not Insane or Anything You Want To (1972) Columbia
- TV or Not TV (1973 Columbia) Proctor and Bergman
- How Time Flys (1973 Columbia) Written and co-directed by Ossman, including all Firesign members plus a cast of guest stars
- Roller Maidens From Outer Space (1974, Epic Records) Written and directed by Austin, including all Firesign members plus a cast of extras
- The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra (1974 Columbia)
- Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974 Columbia)
- In the Next World, You're on Your Own (1975 Columbia)
- What This Country Needs (1975, Columbia) Proctor and Bergman live, based on material from TV or Not TV
- Forward Into The Past (1976 Columbia) Compilation, includes 1969 singles
- Just Folks . . . A Firesign Chat (1977 Butterfly Records)
- Give Us a Break (1978, Mercury Records) Proctor and Bergman
- Nick Danger: The Case of the Missing Shoe (1979 Rhino Records EP)
- Fighting Clowns (1980 Rhino)
- Lawyer's Hospital (1982 Rhino)
- Shakespeare’s Lost Comedie (1982 Rhino) (re-released 2001 in expanded edition as Anythynge You Want To)
- The Three Faces of Al (1984 Rhino, without David Ossman)
- Eat or Be Eaten (1985 Mercury Records, without David Ossman)
- Daily Feed 1988 Newsreel — The Daily Feed (1988, DC Audio) a solo cassette by Austin
- A Capital Decade Daily Feed 1989 Newsreel — The Daily Feed (1989 DC Audio) a solo” cassette by Austin
- Shoes for Industry: The Best of the Firesign Theatre (1993, Sony Records)
- Back From The Shadows (1994, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)
- Down Under Danger (1994 Sparks Media) a solo cassette by Austin
- Tales Of The Old Detective And Other Big Fat Lies (1994 Audio Partners) a solo cassette by Austin
- Pink Hotel Burns Down (1996 LodeStone Media)
- David Ossman's Time Capsules (1996 Otherworld Media) a solo cassette by Ossman
- George Tirebiter's Radio Follies (1997 Twin Cities Radio Theatre Workshop) a solo cassette by Ossman
- Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (1998 Rhino) We're Doomed trilogy
- Boom Dot Bust (1999 Rhino) We're Doomed trilogy
- Bride of Firesign (1999 Rhino) We're Doomed trilogy
- Radio Now Live (2001 Whirlwind Media)
- Papoon For President (2002 Laugh.Com)
- All Things Firesign (2003 Artemis Records)
- Box of Danger (2008 Shout! Factory)
- Duke of Madness Motors - The Complete "Dear Friends" Radio Era (book and data DVD of radio program recordings, over 80 hours) (2010 Seeland Records)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- In 1996, a computer game written by Bergman, Pyst, a parody of the game Myst, was released by Parroty Interactive.
- "Peter Bergman: Remembering The 'Firesign' Satirist". National Public Radio. March 12, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
- Harvey, Doug (December 5, 2001). "Firesigns of Life". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
- Wendy Maloney (September 29, 2017). "Firesign Theatre Comedians Share Their Story". blogs.loc.gov. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- 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.
- "FIREZINE #4: Under the Influence of the Goons". Firezine.net. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
- Ventham, Maxine (2002). Spike Milligan: His Part In Our Lives. London: Robson. ISBN 1-86105-530-7.
- Tickets.com Archived April 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Jack Poet Volkswagen commercials : Firesign Theatre : Free Download & Streaming: Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
- PeterBergman; Filmkauai.com Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "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.
- Official website announcement, retrieved August 30, 2011
- "Firesign Theatre Still an Original After 45 Years « Audio Eclecticism in the 60s". Davidgordonschmidt.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
- "Peter Bergman, Firesign Theatre founder, dies at 72 | 89.3 KPCC". Scpr.org. 2012-03-09. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
- Voices; Intellivisionlives.com
- 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.
- 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