3/17/12

RIP Peter Bergman (1939-2012) or There's One Less Bozo on This Bus

Yesterday, while listening to Penn's Sunday School, a podcast from the very opinionated Penn Gilette, I learned some very tragic news. It seems one of my personal heroes had succumbed to a long battle with leukemia and he was no longer with us. The man I'm talking about is Peter Bergman,  a founding member of The Firesign Theater. If you're of a certain age (read older than me), you might remember Firesign from their series of surreal, award winning albums from the 70s such as Were All Bozos on this Bus, Waiting on the Electrician or Somebody Like Him, Don't Crush that Dwarf Hand Me the Pliers, Dear Friends, and How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All. Each of these albums pioneered a style of improvisational comedy, took stoner humor to an intellectual level, and proved that comedy records could be as relistenable as your favorite rock record.


Bergman was the foundation of the group, though he often played supporting characters such as Lt. Bradshaw in their many Nick Danger sketches. In a way, Bergman was the focal point for the whole group. In Bergman's words, "I started July 24th, 1966 on [sic. Radio  station] KPFK ... I had some very interesting people around me, which those folks became The Firesign Theatre: David Ossman was connected with the station, Phil Austin was connected with the station, and Phil Proctor came out to do a show and we connected in LA and that was really the genesis of that whole happening." The group would continue with the original lineup for years though Bergman and Phillip Proctor would branch out on their own for many projects, including one that is near and dear to my heart.

 In 1979, Proctor and Bergman released J-men Forever, a film made of old movie serials redubbed á la Woody Allen's What's Up, Tigerllly? It was the second feature in the genre they had worked on, the other, Firesign Theater's Hot Shorts, is a rarely seen gem unto itself. However, what I want to talk about is J-men. Hitting Night Flight in the early 80s, my folks recorded it off TV, and by the tender age of six or seven, I was drawn into the fantastic, comedic, superhero world they created. It was only as I got older that the themes of sex, drugs, and rock and roll really dawned on me. In many ways, it was my first cult film. I held it special, and to this day, I've only met a handful of people who have seen it. In fact the movie is so special to me that when I created this site I named it after J-men Forever's baddie, The Lightning Bug.

The two constants in my life have always been movies and comedy for as far back as I can remember. Strangely enough, that's almost the same length of time I've been watching J-men. I credit the film with not only instilling in  me a silly, slightly offensive, yet erudite sense of humor as well as a love for the strange and unusual in cinema. Many times I wonder if I would have become such a part of the cult movie culture if I hadn't been exposed to J-men Forever at such a formative age. I always wanted to meet Mr. Bergman and thank him for everything his movie did for me and how much it, as well as his work with Firesign, continues to inspire me to have fun, dig deep, and enjoy the ride. So to Peter Bergman, I bid you a fond farewell, and all hail Lennon and Marx.



Below I've put together a selection of some of my favorite Firesign moments featuring Mr. Bergman. I hope that some of you take time to check these out, and maybe there's still a future Firesign fan out there waiting to happen.

First up is Peter in a commercial parody for Rat in a Box. This appeared in one of Firesign's other film Nick Danger and The Case of the Missing Yolk. 


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Here's the whole 12 minutes of Nick Danger and the Case of the Missing Shoe. If you can get past Bergman saying 'Baby Shoes' at the beginning of the second segment then you're a better man than I.


Here's the movie that launched 100 Lairs. Ok, just one, but anyhow, here's J-Men Forever in it's entirety. Go to about 20 minutes in to get to the point with Agent Spike and Bergman the Chief. 




 Last but not least the classic album How Can You Be at Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All. 


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