1986 public access cable interview with Del Close, improv comedy "guru"

Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America sends this gem in, and explains:

Brian Stack is a friend of mine, and a writer on Conan (Conan fans would know him as one of the Slipnutz, or maybe as the Ghost Crooner, Artie Kendall). He's been writing for them for many years, but before that, he was in improviser in Chicago. When he was 19, he was an intern at a public access station, and he made this video report. The subject is Del Close, with whom Stack had just started his first class at the Improv Olympic. Close is known as the "guru" of improv — he's basically the guy who created modern improv comedy, which is, in turn, the source of all most all modern American comedy that doesn't come from standup. He was mentor to everyone from Bill Murray to Chris Farley to the Upright Citizens Brigade. The video is in black and white, because Brian accidentally set the camera to "monitor" mode, but it's a totally amazing time capsule and about 10 minutes of wisdom from the greatest guru of improvisation.
Video: Del Close, 1986. When you're done watching it, head on over to Boloney's for dinner!

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  1. Del Close was/is an absolute original and an icon. When he knew he was dying he held a “Last Birthday Party” filled with friends, family and many of his (very well-known) students. It’s a great artist saying goodbye:

    Part 1

    Part 2

  2. This is like finding some handwritten sketches by John Cleese outlining someone trying to return a parrot. Awesome.

  3. Wait. Was he in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off as the non-Ben Stien teacher? “In what waaaaay… does Milton use… PRISON…”

  4. I studied with Del for about two years, starting right about the time this video was made. Del was the real deal. I was incredibly fortunate to have wandered in when I did.

    If memory serves — and it has been almost 25 years, which is strange, because I still consider myself 25, so bear with me — the team shown onstage here were known as Baron’s Barracudas (after a cartoon voice Del had once done) and they were often brilliant. The guy in shorts, Steve Burrows, has directed a terrific indie feature called “Chump Change” and some of the Budweiser “whassup” ads. We’ve stayed friends all these years. The fellow with the slightly Adrien Brody look about him, Dave Pasquesi, became a major voiceover actor (remember that tag, “did somebody say McDonalds…?” that ran for years? That was Dave). The others were Bill Russell, John Judd, Honor Finnegan, Judy… oh, the brunette, what was her last name… well… and Howard Johnson, who went on to become Monty Python’s biographer, John Cleese’s personal assistant, and a $250,000 winner on Millionaire.

    If I’ve forgotten anyone, my apologies.

    The video also briefly shows Charna Halpern, Del’s business partner and sort of personal caretaker — without Charna, Del might not have ever had the structure around him that led to these classes blossoming.

    btw, an unbelievable number of later-big-name actors came through CrossCurrents, the bar seen in the video, during those years, just for a little coaching or some low-pressure stage time. I’d make a list, but nobody would believe it, frankly.

    Howard wrote a wonderful biography of Del called “The Funniest One in the Room” that I highly recommend — and by reading it, you’ll see some of that list, plus get a glimpse into the life of one of America’s great unsung comedic geniuses.

    PS — Del did in fact will his skull to the Goodman Theater so he could continue to play Yorick in “Hamlet” from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, Illinois has laws against just taking some guy’s skull and putting it in a case, so a bit of conspiring put a skull from a medical supply house in Del’s place at the theater. But anyone who says this isn’t Del’s skull absolutely does not understand the man. The proper response to the new skull, as Howard’s book makes clear: “well, it’s his now.”

  5. What a surprise. I studied with Del in the early 90s at The Improv Olympic. It is no surprise he has the cult following now that he does, he was brilliant, tough and funny. He made a lasting impression on every life he touched.

  6. Del played Reverend Meeker in the 1988 remake of “The Blob”. I was an extra in that movie. I remember seeing the movie after it was finished and was more afraid of him than the blob itself. He was delightfully creepy.

  7. Del Close also was instrumental in one of the best comics series of the 1980s that you’ve never heard of: WASTELAND, published by DC comics, which was a horror/weird anthology book that consistently delivered warped entertainment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasteland_(DC_Comics)

    No I can’t remember how to make links in here. BBCode or HTML?

  8. It should also be mentioned that Brian Stack is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I interned on Conan and he left a huge impression on me as one of the most genuine people I’ve ever worked around.

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