Legends from the counter-culture
Reviewed by Bruce Dessau, Evening Standard (4 October 2005)
It is hard to categorise American comedy legends Firesign Theatre.
Mark Thomas, the host of last night's Radio 4 recording, introduced
them as "The MC5 of comedy".
But while this California-based, cult quartet certainly also emerged
out of America's counter-culture 40 years ago they have never seemed
as angry as those militant rockers. Particularly now that Firesign
resemble avuncular college professors.
A closer description would be America's answer to Monty Python. Like
Python there is a childlike creative lunacy at play whenever Peter
Bergman, David Ossman, Phil Proctor and Phil Austin convene. And as
with Python the spirit of The Goons frequently pokes its head above
the parapet. Unhinged Mr Liverface, selling "dead dog cat food" and
"dead cat dog food" is pure Spike Milligan.
Phil Austin chose not to fly over, but the remaining trio conjured up
rapid-fire word-pictures, immaculately spoofing everything from
Shakespeare (jazzily rebranded "Billy The Shakes"), to soaps to
unctuous programme sponsors: "Brought to you by Ma Rainey's wholesome
moleskin cookies, a whole mole in every bite." Nonsense in a good
sense rather than in a Walter Wolfgang sense.
The musician Firesign most evoke is Frank Zappa. They are
unpredictable, clever and too wilfully oddball to crack the
mainstream. This rare one-off was a fascinating glimpse into a
parallel comedy universe. Top marks to the Beeb for bringing them
over. In fact, top marks to the Beeb for even having heard of them.
To be broadcast on Radio 4 on December 14.
Corn! Now we can make torillas!
-- Firesign Theatre