s skippy the bush kangaroo: rest in peace peter bergman

skippy the bush kangaroo

Saturday, March 10, 2012

rest in peace peter bergman

first it's davey jones, now we are incredibly sad to report the passing at age 72 of peter bergman, one of the founding members of the firesign theater, as well as the driving force behind radio free oz.

fans of dense, clever, stupid, silly, politically incorrect and pithy humor loved the firesign theater's comedy albums, which the group was still turning out on a regular basis. these four gentlemen provided multi-layered stories that were funny enough to listen to when one had all of one's facilities about one, but even more devastatingly brilliant when combined with the recreational chemical of your choice.

their work is often described as as joycean in its construction, but to be honest, that's mainly because the 2nd album ends with molly bloom's monologue from "ulysses." (a lesson to future comedians: a great way to be compared to major writers is to steal from them outright!)

the group formed in the late 60's out of peter's radio show in los angeles radio free oz. examiner.com:
actor and writer peter bergman, a founding member of firesign theatre, died thursday march 8th, 2012 from complications of leukemia. in the late '60s and early '70s, bergman, along with phil proctor, david ossman, and philip austin, produced some of most billiant comedy albums of all time.

the comedy group's forays into film were less successful and more compromised than their densely layered and unfettered work in the recording studio. they were hired to write and star in the counterculture western zachariah, but wound up marginalized in the creative process and relegated to supporting roles. 1979's americathon was a watered-down rewrite of proctor and bergman's stage play.

from boingboing.net, here's a radio interview with firesign theatre co-founder phil proctor about the death of his friend and collaborator of over 50 years, and samples of bergman's brilliant work with the group:

louis marshman editorial: [mp3]
shoes for industry: [mp3]
giant toad supermarket: [mp3]
mr. liverface: [mp3]
rock or roll memory bank: [mp3]

from the firesign theater website:
peter’s audio career was launched in high school as an announcer oh the school radio system, from which he was banished after his unauthorized announcement that the chinese communists had taken over the school and that a “mandatory voluntary assembly was to take place immediately.” russell rupp, the school primciple, promptly relieved peter of his announcing gig. rupp was the inspiration for the principle poop character on “don’t crush that dwarf”...

at college, peter was managing editor of the yale comedy magazine. he wrote the lyrics for two musical collaborations with austin pendleton, both of which starred phil proctor. he graduated as a scholar of the house in economics, and played point guard for the liberal basketball league whose members have since lost their dribble but not their politics.

peter spent two graduate years at yale as a carnegie teaching fellow in economics, and as the eugene o’neill playwriting fellow at the drama school. after a six-month stint as a grunt in the u.s. army’s 349th general hospital unit, he went to berlin on a ford foundation fellowship where he joined tom stoppard, derek marlow and piers paul read at the literarisches colloquium berlin. there he wrote and directed his first film, “flowers,” and connected with the living theatre - a major influence on his art.

peter worked briefly in london with spike milligan and the bbc before returning to america in 1966. back in the u.s., he secured a nightly radio show on pacifica’s kpfk in los angeles: “radio free oz,” around which the firesign theatre coalesced and gestated.

peter coined the term “love-in” in 1967, and threw the first such event in april of that same year in los angeles. that event ultimately drew a crowd of some 65,000 people, blocking freeways for miles. this so impressed gary usher, a columbia records staff producer, that he offered the firesign theatre their first record contract.
peter continued writing, producing and acting in media through-out the 80's, 90's and aughts, and was still going strong as of earlier this week. here's peter's last words on radio free oz, podcast last saturday night.

we never knew peter, but we do know phil proctor, and our hearts go out to him, as well as phil austin and dave ossman, and the proctor family.

the firesign theater were more than inspiration for our own comedy career; they were a secret language among high school and college buddies; they were an accurate if skewed view of the world not just as a place to live, but a reality to bend; they were a living koan that showed how one joke can be simultaneously stupid and smart at the same time. and peter was the lynchpin that kept the fires burning in the firesign.

there's one less bozo on the bus, and we'll always remember mudhead.

rest in peace, peter bergman.
posted by skippy at 6:07 PM |


Add a comment