Firesign Theatre
Peter Bergman David Ossman
Phil Proctor Phil Austin

Weirdly Cool
WHYY TV12 produces first-ever television special for the legendary Firesign Theatre comedy troupe
By Josh Holzer

If the line, "I want to order a pizza to go, and no anchovies," makes you laugh, and if Nick Danger, Third Eye is your idea of a hard-boiled gum shoe then you know Firesign Theatre.

If you don't get it, don't worry, you will. Firesign Theatre, America's longest running comedy team, TV12 and Rhino Records have partnered to produce Weirdly Cool, a collection of new and classic sketches, archival footage and commentary on Firesign Theatre from many of the country's favorite comedians. Weirdly Cool will have its local and national debut on Wednesday, November 28 at 8 p.m. when the four-member comedy troupe appears live that evening in WHYY's studios.

November 2001 marks the 35th anniversary of the comedy quartet of Peter Bergman, Phil Austin, Phil Proctor and David Ossman. The four formed Firesign Theatre while working in FM, the radio frequency of choice for the counter culture of the 1960s. Combining what was considered subversive satire and very intelligent, multi-layered comedy routines, they carved out a niche for themselves in the world of humor. "They are geniuses on radio and record. They do a very intelligent form of comedy and are a great match for us," says David Rubinsohn, WHYY-TV director of broadcasting and executive producer of the show. "Firesign Theatre has never been on TV until now," explains Rubinsohn, who was instrumental in bringing this project together. "All of the guys have worked for various public radio stations. No one could do them justice but PBS."

Rubinsohn, a fan of the team for years, described the night in August 2001 when they taped before a live audience at Television City in Hollywood California as magical. "It was like working with The Beatles of Comedy." "This [Television City] is where The Carol Burnett Show, was, and The Price is Right is shot, so you know the production values are first class," Rubinsohn said. Most people have a favorite comedian or troupe they listen to over and over again. This program is no different. In fact, the material has so many layers, listening again may be a necessity. "Sometimes it wasn't until the twentieth listen that I'd get the joke. This either says they're brilliant and subtle, or I'm not too sharp," Rubinsohn suggests.

Intermingled with the classic bits, such as a commercial for Loostner's Castor Oil Flakes, and clips of experimental film the four were involved with in the 1960s, are new routines and humorous takes on the world today. Instead of becoming a nostalgia act over the years, Firesign Theatre has remained topical and fresh. Entertainment Weekly recently named them one of the "Thirty Greatest Acts of All Time."

Rubinsohn said his experience working with the team gave him, as a diehard fan, a whole new perspective on their unique dynamic as a unit. "It was a rush for me because I've only ever heard the results. I've never seen the process. Watching them as they create together is amazing, all four minds are in sync and the end is just beautiful." Weirdly Cool will debut Wednesday, November 28 at 8 p.m. on WHYY TV12.