Tag Archives: Harold

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.”

 

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The Harold

 

Beginning improvisers often assume that The Harold, the long form improvisation developed at The Committee and refined by Del Close in Chicago, was named for Harold Ramis.

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I point out that it isn’t true, and The Committee was performing Harolds before Harold Ramis joined Second City (the detailed story is in my Del biography The Funniest One in the Room).

But maybe it should be. And that’s the way I’m going to start thinking of it.

I’m in the middle of writing a longtime project that will pay tribute to The Committee, the legendary San Francisco improvisational theatre. (More about this later. A LOT more.)

Some of the members that I’ve interviewed have been quick to correct me, ever so gently, when I use the word “improv.” So much so that they’ve pretty well trained me not to use it (at least in front of them), and so I’m always careful to say “improvisation” around any of them. Hey, I figure they’ve earned the right to call it what they want. After all, that’s where The Harold was developed and named.

One of the guys I talked to this week preferred the term “improvisational theatre,” at least for what they were doing in the 1960s. He discussed the development of what they were doing as developing and polishing scenes which would be repeated every night, and were good enough to be transcribed and published, which has always been Second City’s bread and butter. He differentiated it from iO shows, for example, in that scenes performed during a Harold at the iO were forgotten immediately after and never performed again. (Fireworks, as Del Close always described them.) And, I realized that it was another example of the Del Close/Bernie Sahlins argument–whether improvisation was an art form in itself, or just a tool for developing scenes.

Del used to say we should be able to perform at such a high level that we could improvise in the evening, transcribe it overnight, and send it off to Samuel French to be published in the morning.

Have longform scenes been transcribed in that way? If not, is it because the quality or longevity isn’t there? Or because no one has bothered? He seemed to feel it was the former, but I offered up T.J. and Dave as an example of the quality that he was referring to. He hadn’t seen them, so it pretty much ended our disagreement.

But how about it? Is there an example of this that I wasn’t aware of?