Saturday, April 16, 2005

Del Close

The first time I became consciously aware of comedian (plus) Del Close was when I interviewed Severn Darden, another Second City alumni along with Close, for a 1981 article about yet a third legendary (a word I hate, but. . .hey) comedy figure, Lord Buckley, for the now-defunct L.A. Reader. All three have since gone to that free-form, post-midnight Improv session in the sky. Here's how Close's name cropped up in conversation back in '81:

"There were many stops for Buckley, both planned and unplanned, along the way [circa 1960]. He set out with his faithful aide Louis in a battered old VW bus, and while he was on the road, Buckley worked dates in a number of cities. But the most memorable stopover was in Chicago where he linked up with two members of the soon-to-be-formed Second City Company for a one-night-only smashingly successful performance. Actor Severn Darden, who performed with Buckley and actor Del Close in Second City's presentation, Seacoast of Bohemia, told me about Buckley's triumph: 'It was the most remarkable evening I've ever seen happen in the theater. The three of us had rehearsed for several weeks, and when we finally did the show the audience cheered and laughed throughout all of it.'"

Along with (oops) legendary teacher Viola Spolin---the mother of improvisational comedy---Close was a major figure in the development of Improv. In other words, think Bill Murray, Martin Short, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and dozens more from the SNL/Second City axis. This all came to mind when I read an article in the current Chicago Reader concerning a memoir about Close, Guru: My Days With Del Close, written by the comic's aide-de-camp in his final days. Not having read the book yet, still I glean from the article and other reviews that, according to Guru author Griggs, Close brought a whole new world of meaning to the phrases "piece of work" and "high maintenance."

So the story goes, a somewhat, ummmm, legendary comedy LP by Del Close and John Brent, How to Speak Hip, made a big impact on Brian Wilson around the time he was recording his---oh to hell with it--- legendary album, Pet Sounds. He took to sprinkling his conversation with Brent's hipster characters, Geets Romo, who riffs on and on in the manner of "...and then we'll have world peace" i.e., "Someone hand me a candybar...and then we'll have world peace." According to legend, Wilson even wanted to title "Pet"'s "Let's Go Away For Awhile," "Let's Go Away for Awhile And Then We'll Have World Peace." Click here for Wilson talking about How to Speak Hip followed by a brief snippet from the self-same sidesplittingly funny album. To the best of my knowledge the recording is, alas, out-of-print, and used copies usually cost suds 'o moola.

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