Good weekend for reading. I just finished Kim Johnsons‘s excellent book The Funniest One In The Room about the life of Del Close, a legend of the improv theatre world. Pretty much any American comic working the edges today can be traced back to his influence, along with that of Paul Sills and Viola Spolin (Sills’ mother), and the long form model known as The Harold. In tandem with the early Brirtish movement, his work also impacted landmark television shows like SNL, SCTV, MAD TV, Mr. Show, Whose Line Is It Anyway and others. Close died ten years ago; his influence will probably be eternal.
Johnson, who was a student of Close, was somehow able to stitch together a story about an unconventional man’s life, weaving a narrative out of the fact, fiction and legends like a person would pan for gold. I didn’t know the man personally, but when you read the testimonials from comedians who praise the book, you’ll go on faith like I did. It’s well-written, peppered with wonderful anecdotes, and a great peek behind the comedy curtain.
Here are just some of the groups that Close impacted as either an actor, writer, director or influence – the list of famous names who have interned through them is staggering:
- The Compass Players
- Second City
- The Groundlings
- The Committee
- Upright Citizen’s Brigade
- Improv Olympic
- Comedy Death Ray
I’ve read a few good books on the history of comedy over the last few years. I’ll save that overview for another day, but rest assured this title will be on the list – highly recommended for any fan of the genre.
The man willed his skull to the Goodman Theatre for their next presentation of Hamlet. Need I say more?
Truth In Comedy – a book Close co-authored with Johnson and Charna Halpern.
Del Close Wikipedia page.
Serendipity! Looks like the two comedy albums Del made are set for re-release in July.