Firesign Theatre, Now Playing on NPR
On All Things Considered, Troupe Plies Its 'Stream of Comedy' Craft

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April 22, 2003 -- Environmentalists honor today as Earth Day, an observance first held in in 1970. Different people, of course, mark it differently -- for the folks of the Firesign Theatre, Earth Day is an opportunity to preserve pockets of surrealism on this planet.

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David Ossman and Phil Austin
David Ossman, left, and Phil Austin
Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor
From left, Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor
Photos courtesy Firesign

CD cover for All Things Firesign
Cover for
All Things Fireside, the troupe's latest CD featuring bits first heard on All Things Considered
Artemis Records

Available Online

I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus. Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. How Can You Be Two Places at Once If You’re Not Anywhere At All?

For those whose dorm rooms rang with the voices on those albums through the late '60s and early '70s, Firesign Theatre needs no introduction. But for the uninitiated (and the younger): Meet Firesign Theatre, which isn’t a theater at all. It’s the four-man comedy troupe of Phil Austin, Phil Proctor, Peter Bergman and David Ossman (all of them born under astrological "fire signs").

They’ve been making theater of the mind for most of four decades, on radio, TV, film and in recordings. Now, they’ve come to All Things Considered, where their signature "stream of comedy" productions will air on special occasions -- Halloween, Thanksgiving -- or no occasion at all (say, the odd summer Wednesday).

The four joined forces in 1966 in Los Angeles, on the Radio Free Oz show that Bergman hosted at listener-supported station KPFK. And then, as one tongue-in-cheek troupe history puts it, they "rapidly evolved from doing put-ons and live original half-hour comic plays before ecstatic crowds into the multi-media production and performance entitity we know today."

Over the years, they’ve produced two dozen best-selling records including the Grammy-nominated Three Faces of Al, Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death and The Bride of Firesign; seven nationally syndicated radio series; many local shows, musicals, and national tours; and short films including Everything You Know Is Wrong, Eat or Be Eaten, and Nick Danger in the Case of the Missing Yolks. They were ranked among the "Thirty Greatest Comedy Acts of All Time" by Entertainment Weekly in 1997.

All Things Considered performances to date:

audio icon March 17, 2003: Saint Patrick's Day is a day when it's said everyone is Irish. And that includes the members of the Firesign Theatre surrealist humor ensemble. In their latest audio escapade, the troupe take the "wearin' of the green" to its illogical extreme.

audio icon Feb. 17, 2003: In honor of President's Day, the Firesign fellows search for something -- anything -- funny about the holiday. Join them in a spin around an imaginary TV dial, where programs include exposés on presidential siblings, a White House poetry slam and a president-for-a-day contest won by Firesign figment George Tirebiter.

audio icon Dec. 31, 2002: On New Year's Eve, the warped wits from Firesign Theatre reflect on the triumphs and tragedies of the previous 12 months. They bid adieu to notable things and people that passed in 2002, including "Michael Jackson's nose."

audio icon Dec. 24, 2002: The Firesign version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." More than mice are stirring in the car that Nick Danger, Third Eye, calls home -- wearing politically incorrect fur from head to foot, he delivers the goods to Rocky Rococco, with help from from some flying reindeer named Smasher, Lap Dancer and Inga.

audio icon Oct. 31, 2002: Bill Undermutter reports on over-emotional monsters; Hal Stark reveals more reasons why he's a "prisoner of the 21st century"; down-home storekeepers Mutt 'n' Smutt sell a few scary Halloween goodies; and the whole troupe goes trick-or-treating in Cabletown.

audio icon Oct. 14, 2002: The Firesign Theatre meets in Harry's Barber Shop for a heart transplant, street poet Beat St. Jack sells the new Baggy Baghdad Bush Suit, and automotive CEO Bob Heeblehauser unveils a car that runs on kid's dinosaur fantasies.

audio icon Oct. 3, 2002: Listen as the troupe explores a new "No Jokes About America" law in the ongoing battle against terrorism.

audio icon Sept. 2, 2002: The troupe talks to some Unwanted Workers of America; proves that Everything You Know is Wrong (about shoes!); tries to vacation with Hal Stark, prisoner of the 21st century; and sells America's newest fun-mobile, the explosive Piñata TransForma.

audio icon Aug. 21, 2002: The troupe tackles the subject of homeland security and the government's program to get civilians to "tip" the government to suspicious activity.

Listen July 4, 2002: For Independence Day, some wide-ranging and surreal humor. On the menu: Stuffed Prawn, host of the Grass Roots Gourmet, samples "Melting Pot Pie" and other patriotic fare; the mid-term terror of Daffy Duck and Bill Maher, super-patriot; And Beat Street Jack's poem, "Famous Accountants School."

Other Resources

Official Firesign Theatre Web site

• Read an interview with Firesign Theatre members online at The Onion.

• Find more Web sites with Firesign Theatre material at Jerry's Firesign Theatre page.