Firesign back to warp the Web generation

Net Life/by Stephanie Schorow
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Sometimes we're so focused on looking at cool stuff on the Web that we forget we can listen to it, as well. And I'm not talking about pirated MP3s or Internet radio either. Plenty of Web pages have audio treats.

Just point your browser to for a delicious, malicious and completely phat-free dose of ear candy.

If the words ``don't touch that dwarf, hand me the pliers'' actually make sense to you, you are probably of an age to recall the surreal and cerebral comedy of Firesign Theatre, which peaked during the late '60s and early '70s.

Firesign's linguistically twisted, multi-layered and bizarrely topical comedy albums - like ``Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him'' or ``How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?'' and the aforementioned ``Dwarf'' - helped warp a generation already busy misspending its youth.

The spending goes on. I checked into after learning that the four-man group's latest CD, ``Bride of Firesign,'' has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Spoken Comedy Album. Grammys will be handed out tomorrow. (The group has been nominated twice before.)

Compelled by a strange force, I found myself spending hours, days even, strung out on the electronic hallways of the fully-loaded Not only have the Firesignites survived sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, they have turned their weird, mind-melding humor to dot-coms, Enron and George W. They even have a live monthly radio show on the new XM digital satellite radio.

Moreover (cue deep-sounding announcer voice), they have conquered cyberspace.

With an uncanny grasp of the new medium, has a twisted abundance of animation and visual jokes, most linked to the themes of their various albums. Best of all are the streaming video clips from their radio show. (To fully appreciate the site, you need Macromedia Flash, RealPlayer and/or RealAudio plug-ins.)

The visuals may be ho-hum; you're just watching them read the scripts to routines like ``Nick Danger, Third Eye'' or ``Dink Shrinkwrap on the Olympics'' or ``Der Ring Des Nibenron'' (The Fall of Enron). But close your eyes and try to keep up with the puns, wordplay, foreplay and five, six, seven and eightplay. For full-tilt boogie Firesign humor, check the audio clips of interviews with George Tirebiter, vice presidential candidate on the ``Natural Surrealist Party'' ticket.

You can also find decades-old ads for Pizza Hut and samples from their recent CDs.

Old fans will appreciate the references to past Firesign routines sprinkled among the newer stuff, both visual and aural. Those who remember ``Antelope Freeway, 1/4th mile'' will enjoy clicking on a link to ``Billville.'' Up pops a graphic of a car passing an exit sign: ``Billville exit 1/2 mile.'' Then ``Billville 1/4 mile.'' Then ``1/8 mile.'' Then ``1/32 mile.'' After ``Billville, 1/8192 mile,'' I clicked into the site.

Once in Billville, ``The Town that Nature Forgot to Hate,'' have lunch at Thai Food Mary's (``Free doggie bag with every Vietnamese dinner!'') and say a prayer at the First Reformed Church of Science Fiction.

The site has all sorts of subversive little details - just like the Firesign albums. Read the Braille finale of the FunfunJournal, as in ``feel all about it.'' Groan, but click the ``Braille translator'' button and see what happens. Click ``Esperanto'' on the Papoon for President page and sure enough, the page is translated into Esperanto. (Well, at least I think it is; my Esperanto is rusty.)

You can also read up on individual projects by members Peter Bergman, Phil Austin, Phil Proctor and David Ossman, plus find links to Firezine, the group's official fanzine, to a four-minute Flash animation epic ``Mark Time'' and to observances on the 2000 election.

Like much of Firesign's humor, the Web site veers from groan-out-loud puns to laugh-aloud throwaway lines to surreal bits that leave you going, ``Huh?''

Whether or not Firesign Theatre takes home the Grammy, they've created a multi-layered, surreal and cerebral Web site - a good match for their style of comedy.