The Firesign Theatre

firesign theatre

The Firesign Theatre is an American comedy troupe consisting of Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Proctor. Their brand of surrealistic humor is best known through their record albums, which acquired a cult following in the late 1960s and early ’70s. The troupe began as live radio performers in LA; the name stems in part from astrology, because the membership encompasses all three ‘fire signs’: Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. The name also refers to Fireside Theatre, an early television series that ran on NBC from 1949 to 1955, followed by ‘Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre’ (1955–58); it may also refer to the Fireside Chats radio broadcasts made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a parody of which can be heard in one of the Theatre’s ‘Nick Danger’ adventures.

The Firesign Theatre employs a stream of consciousness style that includes direct references to movies, radio, TV, political figures, and other cultural sources, intermingled with sound effects and bits of music. The resulting stories — including the theft of a high school, a fair of clowns and holograms and aliens who use hemp smoking to turn people into crows — border on psychedelia, an effect intensified by the frequent appearance of mock ‘advertisements’ satirizing real products. The Firesign approach to comedy was strongly influenced by ‘The Goon Show,’ a British radio comedy program. While their style has the feel of improvisational comedy, most of the material is tightly scripted and memorized. The group’s writing method demands the consent of all four members before a line can be included. Much of their work has been copyrighted under the name ‘4 or 5 Crazee Guys.’

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