Friday, July 2, 2010

A thousand invocations of Del Close

After reading Charna Halpern's two books, Truth in Comedy and Art by Commitee, I've been soaking up as much improv history and reading as I can. One figure whose name keeps returning again and again is the late Del Close. Apparently he was a key figure in American improvisation, especially in the Chicago scene after the 1960s. He taught at Second City and co-founded Improv Olympic with Charna Halpern in the early 80s. A lot of funny people that you may have heard of have studied under him, including John Belushi, Mike Myers and Tina Fey.

In conversation with my pal Mike, he likened Close to Socrates, in that he taught a lot of students and they carried on with their own traditions, but always invoking Close's name. I imagine Del Close as a bit more modern, like Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast himself. His entire mission in life might have been to fuck with the status quo, and generations after him take it for granted and can't even remember his name.

This is a promo for Follow the Fear, a tribute to Del Close.

An odd footnote (and one that I want to follow up on), I own a lot of the Wasteland comics shown in the clip. I was at IO West last week and noticed a name on one of their old cast lists that might not mean anything to any of my improv friends, Kim Yale. The other writer for the Wasteland comics was a guy whose work I admired a lot, John Ostrander. He had married Kim Yale, I remember and mostly I remember the tribute he gave her when she died. I really want to dig into this little side-story. If Ostrander shows up at Comic-con this year, then I'll have to chase him down.

Here's a radio tribute to him done for public radio: Studio 360.

This week I've been devouring a blog filled with interviews of notable improv luminaries. For those seeking an oral history of improvisation, Improv Interviews is invaluable. The site has gone dormant, but there are at least a few years of interviews available there. They include Ian Roberts and Matt Besser from the Upright Citizen's Brigade and Charna Halpern.

This is an amusing bit from The Devil's Dictionary of Improvisation.

In the meantime, I've just ordered Second to None and Something Wonderful Right Away. Much more to watch and read.

1 comment:

Fad23 said...

Here's a short excerpt from Improv Interviews. Ed Herbstman interviewd by Jeff F.:

JF: How would you define the term ‘yes and?’

EH: It’s an extremely good shorthand for a much larger concept. It’s like saying ‘ok, you have a motor. How do you define what ‘gear’ is?’ Well, it’s a circle that has consistent ridges that is designed to mesh with another circle with consistent ridges, but of a different diameter, in order to use a little bit of power and rotation to make something much larger and heavier to move at a certain rate. Hey that was a pretty good description of a gear, don’t you think?

JF: Yup.

EH: You weren’t listening.

JF: I know that you mentioned diameter.

EH: [laughs] Go on and say one other word that I just mentioned.

JF: Consistent?

EH: Ok.

JF: Sweet.

EH: Ok, you proved you were kind of listening. Well, it’s like saying ‘what is a gear?’ What is yesand? Yesand is the gears without which the components can’t connect.