Peter Bergman, one of the founding members of Firesign Theatre, died Friday of complications from leukemia. He was 72.
Bergman, along with partners David Ossman, Phil Proctor and Phil Austin, made intricate, hilarious comedy records together beginning in the late 1960s. Waiting for the Electrician, or Someone Like Him, from 1968, was the first in a string of what I consider some of the best comedy-troupe records ever made. It was old radio in a new psychedelic age. Records like How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All; Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers; and my favorite, 1971's I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus, were best for listening in a room with giddy friends. Those albums' jokes became part of the social fabric for a generation steeped in serious issues of war and activism. They provided levity for many facing the draft and other social ills.
As a tribute, here's a clip worthy of Bergman's unusual and morbid tastes — one of the group's most accessible routines, "Beat the Reaper," in which a contestant is injected with a disease and faced with 10 seconds to identify it or really lose. It's followed by Firesign Theatre's look into the future.