Monthly Archives: March 2014

Committee Report…

…I had a great time yesterday talking with Dr. Gosling Trauma, a former piano player for The Committee.

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He is just one of the most recent interviews I’ve done for my book on the legendary improvisational theatre. It’s taking much longer than I had hoped, but that’s partly because I keep coming across new people to interview. Just when I think I’m ready to stop interviewing and start writing, somebody else comes along. I don’t know when Jamie Wright and Sam Shaw will be finishing their documentary, either, but there’s going to be a lot of Committee greatness out there eventually…

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Censorship…

… I’ve always been opposed to most forms of censorship. This video explains one reason it’s stupid and useless and counterproductive. Jimmy Kimmel does a regular segment called Unnecessary Censorship, and there are a number of video clips on the web doing the same thing. This is one of the better ones…

Too Silly…

Graham Colonel… It was about this time of year in 1981 that Graham Chapman came through town.

I was living near Chicago, but hadn’t seen Graham for several months, not since Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl shows had ended the previous fall. But Graham let me know that he was going to be in Chicago, promoting A Liar’s Autobiography, and it would be nice to get together. I agreed, and we made arrangements to meet.

Although I’d seen Graham and Terry Jones back in 1975, at the Carnegie Theatre when they were promoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this was the first time since then that Graham and I would be able to meet on my home turf, and I’d be able to show him around the city. In other words, it was a rare treat.

He had a full slate of interviews, and I seem to recall listening to one of them on the radio as I drove into the city. I picked him up mid-afternoon, and I might have even driven him to his last few appointments, and then we sat down and caught up.

He showed me the schedule the publicist had given him to see which of the remaining interviews were the most important. He also seemed a bit anxious about an event scheduled for that evening. It was at Facets, a Chicago film society, featuring a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, followed by what was described as a talk by Graham Chapman.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to say anything,” worried Graham. I didn’t blame him. Unlike his onscreen persona, Graham was normally shy and quiet, and this seemed quite a bit to handle without a lot of advance preparation.

We talked about it further, and I tried to calm his fears. “Why don’t you just do a question and answer thing?” I suggested to him. “That should be a lot easier. Besides, they’re going to love whatever you do.” He seemed a little more comfortable at the idea of just answering questions, and I further comforted him by pointing out that Facets wasn’t that big of a place, and there probably wouldn’t be too many people. “And if there are, they probably won’t ask too many questions,” I lied.

“Yes, I suppose,” he said, wanting to believe me and a bit cheered. “That should be all right.”

The subject didn’t come up again until we pulled up at Facets that evening. Facets wasn’t that large, but the fans managed to pack themselves in every available inch. They weren’t laughing at Holy Grail as much as they were cheering, and when the film ended, Graham took his place in front of the crowd.

“Does anyone have any questions?” he asked in front of the whooping multitude. I was probably the only one who didn’t try to ask a question, but I did laugh–and cheer–along with his answers. The hosts had asked earlier if they could audiotape the session, and I told them I was sure it would be fine. About 45 minutes later, the host thanked the crowd, and Graham and I were whisked away. Even Graham was in a buoyant mood, and the rest of the evening, Graham asked me a few questions, and we relived some of the funnier moments.

I had almost forgotten about it when, a few months later, I got a call from Graham out of the blue. “Do you know if they taped that thing at the film society?” he asked. I told him I thought so, and asked if he wanted a copy of the tape. “That would be great! Thanks Howard.”

I contacted Facets, and they were happy to supply a copy of the tape, which I sent along to Graham. It was only later that I found out why he wanted it.

It seemed that someone had contacted Graham about doing a lecture tour, but Graham wanted to listen to the tape first. He was happy with it, and then sent it along to the promoter, who was delighted, as it made it very easy to get bookings for Graham.

And so, for the rest of the ’80s, Graham would go out on tour whenever he was low on cash. Which was not terribly uncommon for Graham. But it had an unexpected benefit for me as well. Whenever he toured, he tended to go through Chicago quite a bit. And, having just moved into the city itself, it meant that I was able to visit with Graham surprisingly often. We spent so much time together that would otherwise have been impossible, with more adventures than I’d ever hoped for. And thanks to the lecture tours, he saw me improvise, we went to a high school party, and my mother did his laundry. And much, much more…

Fred…

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It’s been a very bad month for improvisation and comedy in general. Now comes word that the great Fred Kaz, Second City’s legendary jazzman, has passed away. Many were aware that the time was drawing near for the 8 1/2 fingered piano man, but it’s still a huge loss. Fred was an institution when I first started studying there, and remained so even after he retired in the late 80s. I didn’t know him well, just enough to say hi whenever I ran into him, but he was very generous with his time when I was writing my Del Close biography. And an interesting coincidence: until I read his obituary, I didn’t realize that Fred and Del were born just a week apart back in 1934. The world of improvisation doesn’t have many icons left, so it hurts even more to lose one of Fred’s stature.

A mutual friend who preferred to remain anonymous wrote something that I thought should be passed along, so here it is. Good night, Captain.

 

What Would Fred Want? 


In lieu of flowers — or donations to charities that are often mere extensions of Big Pharma — I am sending money directly to:
 
Helen Kaz
PO BOX 1924
San Pedro  CA 90733

I know it will be put to better use by Helen than by a florist in Long Beach or the American Cancer Society.  She still has to take care of Fred.  
If you can think of anyone who might like to honor Fred’s memory by “paying it forward” …could you please pass this suggestion along to them. 

A Little More Dick

… Because I wrote about Eric Idle’s WHAT ABOUT DICK? last week, but forgot to include a link. So, this is a link to Billy Connolly rehearsing for the show. The whole thing is downloadable at http://www.whataboutdick.com

More Del

 

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I’ve been thinking about Del Close a lot recently. This was the week he died back in 1999, and also the week he was born (in 1934). Also, ironically, this is the time of year that some of his prominent students passed away as well, students like John Belushi, John Candy, and, now, Harold Ramis.

But I’d rather dwell on his life and what he accomplished while he was with us. One of his accomplishments was a role in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, where he portrayed Mia Sara’s teacher. The day he filmed this, he showed up at Crosscurrents, where we were then taking classes and performing The Harold, and told us about his day. He also told us “I snuck in a little commercial for us, in John Hughes’ big blockbuster comedy.” And he told us where to look for it when the film came out.

Sure enough, we were still performing Harolds about a year later when the movie opened. And, just as Del had promised, if you look on the blackboard, he left us a little commercial just above the word “prison.”

 

Happy Birthday Del

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 It was 80 years ago, March 9, 1934, that Del Close was born in Manhattan, Kansas. During the nearly 65 years he was with us, he taught us, directed us, appalled and entertained us, amazed and enraged us, enlightened us, and, most of all, made the world a better place for his having been here.

Del could be a walking contradiction, capable of surprising even those closest to him. He was a contrarian, a philosophy that informed much of his work and his life. He was also one of the few true geniuses I’ve ever known, with the ability to process information and observations and present them in new ways.

His life story has taken on legendary proportions, in part because Del believed that legends were often more truthful than facts. He was traveled the country with Dr. Dracula’s Den of Living Nightmares, knew L. Ron Hubbard before Scientology, appeared in The Blob remake, cavorted with the Merry Pranksters, used aversion therapy to recover from alcoholism, kicked a cocaine habit with the help of a coven of witches, became a very talented stage and film actor, helped to develop and became the greatest champion of long form improvisation, and bequeathed his skull to the Goodman Theatre for their productions of Hamlet.

Del directed John Belushi, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, and many others. He was co-creator of the Harold, director for Second City, San Francisco’s The Committee, and the ImprovOlympic (now iO), and “house metaphysician” for Saturday Night Live. His students went on to found the Groundlings in Los Angeles, the Upright Citizens Brigade in both New York and Los Angeles, and the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago.

I researched all the claims and rumors about his life while I was writing his biography The Funniest One in the Room. And although I discovered were some exaggerations and fictions, I learned that the most unbelievable stories were the true ones.

His ashes, along with a few photos and other memorabilia, are on display at the iO Chicago, and I’m sure he’ll be making the move when the iO moves to a new building later this year. Stop by and say hello. Del would like that.

Happy Ash Wednesday!

  I almost forgot that it’s Ash Wednesday–the one day of the year when comic book fans pay tribute to Event Comic’s Ash! He was created by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, with publisher Laurie Bradach (wonder whatever became of those guys?). Ash, the first firefighter superhero, was bought and eaten by Dreamworks, and hasn’t been seen since. I miss him.

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(Full disclosure: I was Marketing Director for Event Comics. Good times…)