Off The Wall
story: Phil Fountain photo: Byron Cohen
FIRESIGN THEATRE PERFORMS AT THE CASCADE
It has been more than four decades since a band of four comedic actor/writers sidled up to the microphone at Los Angeles’ Pacifica radio outlet, KPFK, and unleashed a torrent of irreverent raps, audio gags, puns and general mayhem on an unsuspecting listening audience. Since that day in 1966, Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Proctor, known collectively as the Firesign Theatre (each having been born under an astrological fire sign), have sold millions of albums, performed hundreds of critically acclaimed shows and have been designated, by no less an authority than the Library of Congress, a “national treasure.” On June 26, a Redding audience will have an opportunity to witness this as the “Beatles of Comedy” wreak their own brand of surrealistic, intelligent, off-the-wall hilarity on the historic Cascade Theatre stage.
Born out of those halcyon days of 1960s America, the Firesign Theatre found itself the court jester to a burgeoning counter-culture. More than class clowns, the comedy troupe became a singular voice to a generation searching to make its way in a chaotic world that was in dire need of change. It was Peter Bergman and his cohorts who organized and publicized the first “Love-in,” actually coining the term. But, it was with its brilliant series of “theater-of-the-mind” recordings for Columbia Records that its legacy was established on a national scale.
With groundbreaking albums like Waiting For The Electrician Or Someone Like Him, How Can You Be in Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers and Everything You Know Is Wrong, the group created an alternative universe filled with people, places and things that became a real part of fans’ lives – a sort of Lake Wobegon on acid, if you will.
These tightly written, brilliantly executed and painstakingly produced recordings set a standard for audio comedy that has gone unequaled in the ensuing years. The intricate wordplay and astoundingly rich multi-layered comedic concepts have stood the test of time and bear up well under repeated listening. Much like the best of the era’s music, the Firesign Theatre has endured. It is not a stretch to place it shoulder to shoulder with The Beatles, Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan as contemporaries whose work not only defined a generation but continues to inspire.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Philip Proctor about the current state of the Firesign Theatre and what it is like trodding upon the boards with the same partners he took up with back in 1966, and here’s what he had to say:
“You know, it is such a joy to still be performing with my dear friends after 43 some odd years - well, actually, they’ve all been odd -- and still be able at our age to play together like happy children in the sandbox of our minds. The reward of live performance is the amazing opportunity to interact with one another and with our wonderful, unique and dedicated audiences. We’re like jazz musicians riffing on our own original compositions in a kind of never-ending, cerebral comedy jam.
“Our touring show is special for us because we’re able to present an eclectic mix of classic and newly conceived contemporary pieces in a liberating minimalist setting, allowing us to perform as we did on the radio and in studio. We’re free to surprise ourselves and our audiences every night, so that no show is ever exactly the same; and because we can hold scripts in our hands, we can introduce new ideas whenever we get the urge and thus build a new show based on audience reactions in the tradition of the Marx Brothers, whom we surrealistically embrace as our crazed kinsmen.”
“Also, the reemergence of Mr. Bergman’s Radio Free Oz is inspiring new creativity, and energized by the enthusiastic support of our fans (in person and on line), we are working in concert on a new show based on a merry mélange of past and present releases, so stay tuned!”
I would suggest that you not only stay tuned, but that you turn on and drop in for the performance by this unique American comedic institution. •
The Firesign Theater will be performing at the Cascade Theatre on June 26. For tickets visit www.firesigntheatre.com