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Firesign Theater

By Karen Gates / February 11, 1999



Before there was "Saturday Night Live," there was Firesign Theater. The reality-bending comedy troupe came together in 1966 at radio station KRLA in Los Angeles. Phil Austin, Phil Proctor, Peter Bergman, and David Ossman performed live, half-hour comic plays on Bergman's "Radio-Free Oz."

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The group caught the attention of Columbia Records, and Firesign made its first album in 1968, "Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him." The group's densely textured, anti-Establishment, pun-filled comedy became an underground hit on college campuses. Devotees memorized entire 20-minute bits.

Many fans consider Firesign's 1970 LP, "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers," the group's peak.

But times changed. "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "Second City TV," and "Saturday Night Live" eclipsed the quartet. Columbia dropped the group in 1975. Firesign split up, briefly reunited in 1981, then split again.

In 1993 they began a well-received 25th-anniversary tour that coincided with a "greatest hits" CD. They released a new album, "Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death" (Rhino Records) last year. Firesign also has a Web site: www.benway.com/firesign

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