Tag Archives: Del Close

Happy Birthday Del

Del Book coverDel BlobDel Close would have been 83 years old today.

I think he’d be pretty happy.

The new iO theatre building is attracting students and audiences from all over the world, and Charna is continuing to carry on his work.

Long form improvisation is still growing in popularity every year, and has become accepted as a legitimate entertainment in its own right, and more than just a way to develop sketches (which was always his goal).

There’s even a movie under way loosely based on his life.

So happy birthday, my friend. You are indeed a gift that keeps on giving.



A PythonProv day…

What’s better than teaching a PythonProv workshop at the iO Chicago for 16 students from around the world?

Remembering to take photos of the class so that I could have posted them here…


Remembering Del…

Del Close died 17 years ago today, March 4, 1999, less than 24 hours after his farewell party.

He taught us a better way of life through improvisation, he showed us how to die, and he certainly knew how to edit.

There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think of something Del said or did, or that I don’t share something with my students.

Just last weekend, after they did a scene about a living person at his own wake, I had to tell my PythonProv class that Del had done it first. Coincidentally, they will be on stage tonight at the Chris Farley Cabaret at the iO, doing work that I taught them to do because Del taught me to do it first.

If you’re an improviser and were lucky enough to know Del, tell someone a Del story. If you didn’t, then find someone who knew Del and ask them. (And if you can’t do either, then I would opportunistically suggest you look through a copy of The Funniest One in the Room.)

If Del was still here, he would be very happy–though probably not surprised–at the way that long form improvisation has continued to grow, and very proud of the way that Charna and so many others have carried on his work.

#delclose #iochicago #improvimage

Del and Amy

…Here’s an oddity–I had forgotten this even existed. In 1995, Del Close, Amy Poehler, and Matt Dwyer shot a pilot written by Tom Gianis and Adam McKay (whatever happened to him, anyway?). Like most pilots, it didn’t go anywhere, but it’s nice to see just a little bit more of Del…

Sheldon Patinkin RIP

A couple of hours ago, I glanced at the Chicago Tribune’s weekly obituaries and noticed that of Theodore J. Flicker. I thought to myself “Not many of the founding fathers of improv are left. Thank goodness we still have Sheldon…”

And now, we don’t.

If one were making a list of the most beloved figures in Chicago improv, Sheldon would be right up there, and deservedly so. His lineage goes way back to the Playwright’s Theatre Club, which was the forerunner of the Compass Players, which was the forerunner of Second City.

I’ll leave it to others to tell about his lengthy history and contributions to Chicago theatre (which included authoring The Second City book). Instead, I’ll tell a little about my first experience with Sheldon.

I was writing my biography of Del Close, The Funniest One in the Room, a while back, interviewing everyone I could find. But I hadn’t interviewed Sheldon. Everyone had warned me that the two of them hadn’t…well, they hadn’t been the best of friends. I was reluctant to look him up because I didn’t want to hear a lot of Del bashing. But finally, after dozens of people had told me to “Call Sheldon!”, I relented.

We set up a time to talk, and I prepared for the inevitable Del-bashing. Which never came.

Sheldon couldn’t have possibly been nicer. It’s true, he told me, Del never liked him, but he never knew why. And he went on to tell me story after story of his experiences with the man–possibly the only person in Chicago–who didn’t like him. In fact, at one point it was Sheldon’s job to haul Del from what the latter called “the nut house” to Second City, and back again. Yet he couldn’t have been nicer about it. By the time he had finished, I was horrified and embarrassed that Del had abused this wonderful gentleman so badly.

And after that, I was a first-class fan of Sheldon. We didn’t see each other often, but I’m tickled to say that he was a fan of my writing, and even turned up at a Columbia College panel on Del a couple of years ago. He was looking forward to my book on The Committee, and I am further horrified to note that I still haven’t finished it. But I will. Somewhere, Sheldon is waiting to read it.

Better Call Cleese

Bob Odenkirk has come a long way since the days when we used to improvise together under the tutelage of Del Close. In addition to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Fargo, Mr. Show, and a whole slew of other credits, he has agreed to interview John Cleese on November 20th in San Diego, where John will be promoting his autobiography, So Anyway… If I were you, and I was anywhere in that neck of the woods at that time, I’d get my tickets now

Theodore J. Flicker, R.I.P.

…Not many people who are improvising today know of the importance of Theodore J. Flicker, which is a shame. In fact, among his other many accomplishments, he was the director of the St. Louis Compass Players, directing Del Close, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Nancy Ponder, and the rest of the cast.

How important was he? Well, it was he and Elaine May who devised what are now known as the legendary Westminster Place Kitchen Rules, developed separately from Viola Spolin’s improv rules but just as important and influential.

After each performance of the St. Louis Compass, Ted and Elaine would sit down to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and how it could be improved. Then the group would rehearse and put the rules into action each night in front of an audience. The rules that Del taught, from “Yes and…” on down, all came about from the work of Ted and Elaine.

The list of his credits is very long (he co-created Barney Miller, for one). If you have a minute, imdb him and be impressed.

And now Theodore J. Flicker (as Del always referred to him) is gone. If you improvise, you owe him more than you probably know.

Joan the Improviser

The national tributes that have gone out with Joan Rivers’ passing have not made much of the fact that she was once a Second City performer. Of course, neither did she.

Del & Joan
Del Close, without much prodding, often told tales about performing with her in the same Second City cast. He talked about improvising a scene with her as a married couple in which he asked “But what about the children?” She responded “But we don’t have any children!” So much for “Yes, and…”
Del often described performing with her when she would essentially turn her back on her scene partners, step to the edge of the stage, and begin a monologue about her marriage, husband, etc. Although the others didn’t know it, she was building a stand-up act, albeit at the expense of her fellow improvisers. 
In an interview many years later, when asked about Second City, she said something to the effect of “I don’t think they care much about me there.”
All told, she was not much of an improviser. Fortunately for her, she was able to find something else to fall back on…