Tag Archives: Alan Myerson

Happy Birthday Committee!

Fifty-first anniversaries are never quite as flashy as 50th anniversaries, but it’s always worth remembering the opening night of The Committee on April 10, 1963! Scott Beach, Hamilton Camp, Garry Goodrow, Larry Hankin, Kathryn Ish, accompanied by Ellsworth Milburn, stage managed by Dick Stahl, and directed by Alan Myerson, took the stage at 622 Broadway in San Francisco.

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(The Dick Cavett Show appearances, including the one with Janis Joplin, above, didn’t come until much later.)

Since that evening, a lot of talented folks took the stage as part of The Committee, and they influenced countless others, most of whom don’t even know it. Hopefully, Jamie Wright, Sam Shaw, and I will be able to change that in the next couple of years. Jamie and Sam, who do a terrific job producing the San Francisco Improv Fest every year, are producing a documentary on The Committee, and I’m working on my Committee book.

Anyone who has ever performed The Harold (or any other kind of longform improvisation), or been to the iO, UCB, Groundlings, The Annoyance, or so many other theatres and schools, or enjoyed the work of some of their alumni (including the much-in-the-news iO and Second City alum Stephen Colbert), owe an awful lot to these pioneers, and the upcoming documentary and book will tell you why.

Billy Jack Meets The Committee

It’s difficult to overestimate just how popular BILLY JACK was when it was first released, but for many people, it was the first chance they had to see the now-legendary West Coast improvisational theatre, The Committee. While researching and interviewing for my book on The Committee, I heard stories about filming for Tom Laughlin, who passed away recently. He knew great comedic talent, however, and used it to great advantage for his film. This was shot in the square in downtown Santa Fe in the spring of 1970, with real passers-by in the background watching the filming. Billy Jack featured a number of Committee performers, including Howard Hesseman (who was then known as Don Sturdy), Dick Stahl, Ed Greenberg, Dan Barrows (now known as Beans Morocco) and Alan Myerson. Enjoy.

Committee Report

Before the Python reunion floodgates were opened a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was working on a book on The Committee, the legendary San Francisco Improvisational Theatre. It’s a fascinating story about a theatre that should be remembered and celebrated, if only for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it was Ground Zero for the San Francisco counter-culture during the ’60s, and the San Francisco counter-culture was, arguably, Ground Zero for what we all know today as the ’60s. As one of them put it, “The Sixties walked through our door.” If you hung out in San Francisco at all during that era and had any interest in the music scene or counter-cultural events, you likely spent a little time at The Committee. And if you did, you may have rubbed elbows with Lenny Bruce, or the Byrds, or the Jefferson Airplane. Because none of the hotels he stayed at had a piano, Bob Dylan used to stop by in the afternoons to practice playing piano.┬áThe Grateful Dead played their first gig there, when they were known as The Warlocks.

And that only scratches the surface, and doesn’t delve into any of the political figures or the social events of that time.

The second reason that improvisers today ought to remember it is because The Committee gave birth to The Harold and longform improvisation. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but I was able to track down the real story and speak to many of those involved. The details are in my book The Funniest One in the Room: the Lives and Legends of Del Close. The Committee made a couple of attempts at a longer montage format, but it was after Alan Myerson, Del Close, and Bill Mathieu, conducting separate workshops, got together and compared notes, that they began working with The Committee members to develop what they later named The Harold.

There’s a lot more to the story, of course. Del brought The Harold back to Chicago with him and the world of improvisation was never the same–but it all started at The Committee.

I mention this not because my own book on The Committee is finished (don’t I wish), but because there is also another Committee project under way. Jamie Wright and Sam Shaw, who do a terrific job running the San Francisco Improv Fest, are working on a documentary film telling the story of The Committee as this, their 50th anniversary year, draws to a close. They’re interviewing as many folks as they can for this very worthwhile project, and they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign not long ago. Even though that has ended, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if other folks decided to support them as well. Their Facebook page is here, and you can learn lots more about it. BTW, we’re not competing with my book. We’re working together and pooling resources so that they can turn out the best film, and I can turn out the best book possible about The Committee. Not because we owe them–but because they’ve earned it.