The Firesign Theatre is a legendary 1960's comic foursome famous for their surreal improvisational parodies of radio and TV, rife with horrendous puns and allusions to everything from Beatles' lyrics to James Joyce.
Their wild sense of humor and merciless satire of popular culture, society and history reminds some of Monty Python's Flying Circus, who they preceded by a couple of years. They, much like the Beatles and the Monty Python members, credit The Goon Show as a major influence.
"Founding members Philip Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor were a group of aspiring actors/writers when they met at the studios of Pacifica Network station KPFK-FM in Los Angeles in 1966. In the decade that followed, they wrote and performed 13 albums for Columbia Records, full of dialogue that has become part of the national lexicon." … "Between 1966 and 1972, Firesign Theatre had a series of regular weekly shows on various Los Angeles radio stations. Radio Free Oz ran from June 1966 to February 1969, first on KPFK-FM, then on KRLA-AM, and finally on KMET-FM. The Firesign Theatre Radio Hour Hour aired for two hours on Sunday nights on KPPC-FM in 1970; Dear Friends aired on KPFK in 1970-1; and Let’s Eat followed on KPFK in 1971-2." Many of these recordings were compiled for the paperback book/DVD-ROM combo Duke Of Madness Motors.
Among the Firesign's more popular albums are:
- Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him (1968) included a twisted counter-culture history of the New World ("Temporarily Humboldt Country"), a merciless parody of the hippy counter-culture, and a Future History of the United States in which hippies rule and the unhip are arrested for faded body paint and failure to have a stash on their person.
- How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All? (1969) featured the hard-boiled detective Nick Danger, Third Eye and a Peter Lorre-sounding slimeball named Rocky Roccoco. Side 1 of the album introduced the world to TV pitchman Ralph Spoilsport of Ralph Spoilsport Motors "in the city of Emphysema".
- Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers (1970), a fast-moving channel-surfing trip through television land, with parodies of programs, movies and commercials as George LeRoy Tirebiter, the aging actor, watches himself as a youth on TV all night.
- I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus (1971) is a forty minute "trip" to a future-themed fun park where exhibits include a history of creation and evolution and a pair of arguing vegetable holograms ("Keep it sweet, Beet!"). The main character is "uh, Clem", probably the first fictional computer hacker in pop culture history.
- The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra (1974), in which the famous defective Hemlock Stones and his patient doctor and biographer Dr. Flotsam Jetsam pursue The Electrician, an insane criminal. If you are allergic to puns, be forewarned that this recording is loaded with them.
- Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974) makes fun of every pseudoscience and occult belief in the book, and includes appearances by daredevil Rebus Knebus (a take-off on Evil Kneivel), psychic Nino Savant (a take-off of Uri Geller), and Don Brouhaha (after Carlos Castañeda's Don Juan).
- In the Next World You're On Your Own (1975) is funny and includes a police spoof, Billy Jack Dog Food (the kind Billy Jack eats!), and the thriving downtown of Holbrook, Arizona (complete with dinosaur) on the front cover.
- Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (1998) has a number of dated Y2K references, but is a sharp satire on the radio industry, set in the studio of "Radio Now", a station prone to changing formats during commercial breaks.
- Not Insane Or Anything You Want To (1972) is incoherent even by Firesign Theatre standards. Pass on this one unless you find drug references automatically funny.
- Fighting Clowns (1980) — a spoof of the Presidential election of the year of its production, by this point just an anachronism.
The Firesign Theatre, either collectively or in part, have written for films, these include:
- Zachariah (1971), a rock and roll Western based on Herman Hesse's Siddartha.
- Martian Space Party (1972), a "mockumentary" concert film posing as news coverage of the 1972 National Surrealist Party convention.
- Everything You Know Is Wrong (1975), a lip-synched performance of the recorded album.
- J-Men Forever (1979), written by and starring Proctor and Bergman, edited into a collage of Republic Studios serial clips.
- Americathon (1979), with a script adapted from a sketch by Proctor and Bergman.
- Nick Danger in the Case of the Missing Yolk (1983), a short film shown on USA Network's Night Flight.
- The Firesign Theatre official website
- Actual 1969 TV spots for a California VW dealership by members of the troupe (No longer available.)
- Proctor, Phil. "For Immediate Release." 14 Nov. 2007. Firesign Theatre, accessed 29 April 2008.