the pantheon of recorded and performance comedy, right there on the first
floor, you will find a monument to the Firesign Theater. How they began to
occupy that hallowed estate is the subject of a new DVD called Everything You Know is Wrong --The Declassified
Firesign Theater 1968-1975, released on the Bright Red Rocket label.. Like most enthusiasts, I became acquainted with
their mind-blowing material as a high school and college student who was just
learning to appreciate the wit and wisdom of these modern thespians.
those of you who were not alive in those glorious years, or were distracted by
the British Invasion called Monty Python, the Firesign Theater was our own,
100% American comedy troupe comprised of Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David
Ossman, and Philip Proctor. Best known for their comedy albums on Columbia
records (including such unique titles as “Waiting for the Electrician or
Someone Like Him,” “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not
Anywhere At All,” and my personal favorite, “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me
the Pliers.”) The title of this DVD is taken from their 1974 Columbia record,
“Everything You Know Is Wrong.” Defined by many as “surrealistic comedy,” I
don’t think the adjective is necessary. This is comedy that puts a smile on
your face, and a laugh in your heart, and isn’t that what comedy is supposed to
do—regardless of how it gets you there.
from radio performances at KPPC-FM and KPFK in Los Angeles, they excelled in
creating images in your imagination of people, sounds, and situations—absurd,
irreverent, and downright funny. The DVD set fills in the blanks for the fans
who followed them over the years, and creates a need for all those record
albums in those who will discover them through this compilation.
one starts with an audio only program taken from “The Les Crane Show” in April
1968. This Firesign Theater performance was a live re-creation of their “Oz
Film Festival” routine (listed in the LA Times TV listing as an “Art Movie
Put-on”) –based on an improvisation from the first time they worked together on
“Radio Free Oz” in November 1966. There is no known recording of that first
performance which makes this recording hysterically important. While Crane’s
show was televised, only the audio has survived, because it was taped by a
member of the Firesign while standing in front of his television set.
Crane’s interview is especially fascinating because it sounds, at first blush,
like a serious interview with serious film artists. The nervous laughter of the
studio audience demonstrates that they were not sure either if it was an act or
not. I found their unique film techniques quite believable not only for the
time, but even today. I only wish I could have seen the production still which
Jeanclaude Jeanclaude brought with him from his film “2002” which showed golf-balls and a coffeepot in space.
also wish I knew what the viewers thought, when they watched the commercials
the troupe did for the Jack Poet Volkswagen dealership in Highland Park,
California. Wonder no longer, as you can see them for yourself in the second
section of disc one. You can view them all with commentary by the group, but
why would you want to do that? I listened to commentary because I had to. You
can just focus on their message—which was designed to sell something. I’m not
sure it was cars. I guess it only goes to prove that everything I know is
the liner notes for “The Jack Poet Volkswagen TV Ads,” the Firesign Theater
claim partial responsibility for Jack eventually losing his Volkswagen
franchise. I find that hard to believe. Those were some hot cars in those ads. They
must have sold a lot of Love Bugs to those who followed Tony Gomez’s directions
up the Pan American Freeway from South America to Highland Park.
who was the man polishing the Bugs in the background? The unknown member of the
Firesign? Will we ever find out? Well, stand-by readers! Philip Proctor reports
to me that, as this piece goes to press, “That man is Jack Poet,” himself!
Immortalized in this two disc set.
How’s that! You won’t have to figure it out yourself. And it didn’t take about a week. “About a Week” is the name of the third presentation which was a local public affairs show which highlighted their “The Bob Sideburn News” on U-TV and an interview with the group. In this day and age when people bemoan the state of the world, it’s good to know that we are no longer experiencing gorilla attacks on child care centers. If only the swarming locusts from Pomona could meet up with the swallows of Capistrano. That would make for some entertainment. Thanks to our Library of Congress for finding this rare footage. Your taxpayer dollars well spent. Seriously, their analysis of the news media is desperately needed to be distributed today. Seriously.
But back to the comedy. The “Columbia Records TV Spot” showed that the used car ads prepped them well for promoting their own material. I for one would like to get that Land of the Giant’s eight track tape of “I Think We Are All Bozos on This Bus.” Must be owned by the guy who bought the Ruby Slippers.
“The Martian Space Party” brings us the live convention of the National Surrealist Light People’s Party in San Clamerone and the news coverage of the President’s visit to Monster Island. The film toured theaters throughout the United States from October to December in 1972 as a double bill with Reefer Madness (1936). And again in the minds of those not driven to madness by what they do. And more commentary.
Now for the moment you waited for, “Everything You Know is Wrong.” The 41 minute film, shot by Allen Daviau, who shot many of Steven Spielberg’s hits, was given an expansive $10,000 budget. Which only goes to prove that money isn’t everything. The sun and the “Also Sprach Zarathustra” opening recalls another film I’ve seen somewhere. I still think pigs live in trees.
Finally, if all your inquiries about this team are still unanswered. There is “Questions and Answers:” Live at USC” with even a greater peek at their live action. Even then, that is not all. There is a disc two in the box.
Disc two contains the home movies of the Firesign Theater. The liner notes say “Private lives! Private parts! Pets and Friends, live shows and studio dates…all captured on tattered reels of Super 8.” Need I say more? Yes, I must. For having absorbed and withstood the three-plus hours of the backrooms, studio’s, and road tours of the group, I felt the desperate longing for that time in the late 60’s and early 70’s that will never be repeated. The films represent raw, yet interesting cinema verité from the Ossman and Austin archives. Nostalgia buffs will enjoy the look at a nearby, yet bygone era. While some may consider it cinema, it is indeed truly verité.
All the segments are neatly entitled, from “Mixing the Single Sept. 1969” at the CBS Columbia Square Studio to “No Work, No Contract.” If you ever wanted to know what it was like to hang out with this creative bunch, you get a good idea at the end of the three-plus hours. At the very least, the remarkable music selections which accompany the films provide great background music.
Well that’s it. The whole two-disc DVD set lasts about seven hours. But don’t watch them straight through--like I did. Savor them. Schedule a bathroom break.
It’s time to put down those pliers, and send that dwarf out NOW to buy a copy of Everything You Know is Wrong --The Declassified Firesign Theater 1968-1975.