October 19, 2000
The Triumphant Return of Firesign Theatre

Dear Dre,

Remember Nick Danger? Beat the Reaper? Everything You Know is Wrong? How about a story on the rebirth of the Firesign Theatre?

They've released two new albums in three years (the first one received a Grammy nomination) and they have a Web site plugging all kinds of things, but mostly the two albums.

Brian Westley

Ahhh, how those phrases take me back. While my other geeky high school friends were constantly repeating lines from Monty Python ("Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!"), I was moping around in an Army surplus trench coat spouting obscure Firesign references ("Shoes for industry! Shoes for the dead!").

People thought I was weird, and they were probably right, but that's beside the point. Anyone unaware of the hilarity inherent in every Firesign Theatre album needs to rush right out and buy every single release. The FM radio-inspired comedy troupe recorded some seminal comedic moments, and listening to their older classics today makes the modern comedy landscape seem barren and lifeless, a veritable Gobi desert.

The comedy of today is rife with terribly rude and infantile behavior. Comic personalities like Tom Green and that jackass on MTV's Jack Ass, not to mention idiotic and sophomoric Adam Sandler, seem insipid when compared to the comic genius of Peter Bergman, Phil Austin, Phil Proctor, and David Ossman.

But just what the heck are they, anyway? Well, here's what Derk Richardson had to say in SFGate:

"In 1997, Entertainment Weekly named the Firesign Theatre one of the 'Thirty Greatest Comedy Acts of All Time.' That shows how much those bozo editors know. To those of us who jammed towels into the crack under our doors in college dorm rooms (to keep the telltale experience-enhancing smoke from escaping into the hall), Firesign was the only comedy act that mattered.

"Firesign Theater was the psychedelic era's version of radio theater. First coming together on free-form, listener-sponsored radio KPFK in Los Angeles, they created multi-layered vignettes and epics, brimming with high-brow literary and low-brow cultural references, historical revisionism and futurist prophecy, shameless puns and double entendres, and indelible characters rendered in memorable and widely imitated voices. And because of their brilliant use of multi-tracking, their incorporation of music, their topical relevance, their impeccable timing, and their symphonic sweep, the Firesign Theatre could be considered one of the greatest studio rock bands of all time. The first four Firesign albums, Waiting For The Electrician..., 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 I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus, (all written and recorded between 1967 and 1971) offered hours of listening every bit as complex and rewarding as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds or the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Complex is an understatement. You'll need to listen to most Firesign albums nine or ten times before all the jokes become apparent. And that's exactly what gives them their edge. Whereas Steve Martin's "Let's get small" bit runs ragged after only a few repeats, Firesign's classic skits keep on giving and giving and giving... and the geeky joy of finding another faithful fan who can recreate the skits upon demand usually results in hours of giggling. Indeed, discovering a shared fondness for Firesign ranks mighty high on the bonding scale; somewhere between Cuban cigars and Loudon Wainwright III.

Thanks, Brian, for giving me a blast from the past, as well as the opportunity to expose a new generation to the true kings of comedy. Chew on a few Groatclusters, salute the wheelchair General, and remember: There's hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut.