Firesign Theater's Peter Bergman: 1939-2012

Writer and comedian Peter Bergman, best known as a member of the surrealist troupe The Firesign Theater, died last night of complications from leukemia. He was 72.

Here is a selection of classic, short bits Peter did with Firesign Theatre:

Louis Marshman Editorial: [MP3]
Shoes for Industry: [MP3]
Giant Toad Supermarket: [MP3]
Mr. Liverface: [MP3]
Rock or Roll Memory Bank: [MP3]

Here's a radio interview with Firesign co-founder Phil Proctor about the passing of his longtime collaborator and friend.

UPDATE: Richard Metzger says farewell:

The last time I talked to Peter was a few weeks ago. I’d picked up the Albert Ayler Holy Ghost box set, and there, on one of the live discs recorded in Cleveland in 1966, was Peter introducing the band! I called him up that morning and he excitedly told me about that event and we laughed a lot and I told him that he just HAD to write his autobiography.

“Pete, you’re the ‘Zelig’ of the rock era! You’ve been in a film with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Farrah Fawcett. You coined the terms “love-in.” You smoked a joint with Bob Marley and the Wailers when they were your opening act [True, the Wailers opened for Procter and Bergman in Boston. Pete told me the joint was “arm-sized”!]. You guys gigged with the Buffalo Springfield. You’ve worked with Spike Milligan, and now here you are with Albert Ayler, for god’s sake! I mean, come on! You have to do this!”

Peter seemed to like the idea of writing an autobiography (a lot) and we talked about electronic publishing and Kindles and stuff like that. I had heard just a few days before, from my best friend, Michael Backes, that Peter was sick, but Mike said he played it off very cavalierly, like “Hey, if you’re going to get leukemia, this is the best kind of leukemia to get!” (meaning the most easily treated and managed with medicine).

I waited for the topic to come up on the phone that day. It didn’t, but just as I was about to broach it, Peter got another call and hopped off the line. It was the last time I spoke to him.

(Image: Firesign, in 1971. Thanks, Taylor Jessen)


  1. This makes me want to find a bunch of guys who dress alike and follow ’em around. Or maybe just cut the soles off my shoes, sit in a tree, and learn to play the flute. 

  2. He helped give this country what it needed- A good $5 Joke.

    Was as personable in life as he was funny on audio. More sugar, compadre!

  3. Aw man… I’d prefer the news-drought to continue rather than have news like this.

    Guess it’s time to dig out my old copy of ‘How can you be in 2 places at once when you’re not anywhere at all’…

  4. Ah Clem here, pretty bummed out by this.  One of the greats for sure.  These guys helped shape my young life at a time when it really needed shaping. I’ll just step left of the yellow rubber line, and see you all on the runway.

  5. Wow. This is sad.  I saw him just a few months ago when Firesign performed in Portland.  (And I was given a pair of very expensive tickets for free.) I had no idea he was ill. The performance was flawless.

  6. I’m heavy on the 30 weight today. Random thoughts:

    Peter and Phil Proctor did a send up of MYST called PYST -a CDrom “game” that purportedly took place after a million visitors had traipsed over the island. Garbage pits, sea gulls, some guy camped in a trailer -great stuff.

    Firesign Theater records are only $1.98 on Amazon apparently because one side is one track. Hope they don’t figure this out.

    I saw Peter introducing new products on a stage at NAB in the Sony Broadcast booth some years back.

    I’m not sure what to do now: wait here in the sitting room, or sit here in the waiting room.

    Antelope Freeway 1/8 mile

  7. For whatever it’s worth, I owe much of the person I am today to Monty Python, National Lampoon and these four or five crazy guys.

    “Morse Science High; its… disappeared”, along with most of today’s happy.

    One memory: Seeing the Firesign Reunion Tour in Boston with a woman who was unfamiliar with their oeuvre; she said she would have enjoyed it more if the rest of us hadn’t been reciting along, word for word.

    1.  I loved the call and response moment in live shows when the Morse Science High principal gave his ‘talk’ and we all got to shout back. One show, some poor folk/rock singer opened for them, and the first two or three rows were all Bozos. The look on that guy’s face was a high moment in their live shows for me.

  8. Just a second, Bergman, what about my pickle?

    “Stop singing you old fools, can’t you see someone’s been crushed under this car?! … Oh – oh my god, it’s me!  I don’t look at all well… I’m dead!  I’ve been killed!  Ooooh, this hasn’t happened to me since ‘M’!…”

  9. I heard this sad news earlier today. Damn. I was turned-on the FS over 30 years ago and still love listening to their work. Just damned funny and damned smart writing. Thanks for everything, Peter!

    Serving Heater, Hellmouth, and the low desert area.

  10. Sucks.  Sucks. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.

    I’ve met him several times, and interviewed him at least once. Great, funny guy. He’ll be sorely missed.

  11. Don’t crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers. I’m bummed :( and hope he didn’t suffer too badly.

  12. My band, Benefit Street, had the rare privilege of opening for Firesign Theater live in Providence, RI, on the Ides of March, 1970. They were truly awesome. Sad to hear this news.

    Exit left to Funway….

  13. Son of a BITCH.

    Antelope Freeway 1/64th mile.

    Shadow Valley Condoms, if you lived here you’d be home by now.

  14. Dimmed my day considerably to see this. So many memories, so much fun with language, and culture, so much joy … Deputy Dan is not your friend … Shoes for industry, shoes for the dead … and I won’t forget my entrenching tool. Condolences to those who loved him; his memory is already a blessing.

  15. Antelope  Freeway 1/128th mile.

    I’ve been listening to FT and Proctor & Bergman’s TV OR NOT TV album about as long as I understood speech.  Their language is my language, and almost anything I say or create has a bit of them in it.  Peter was the Mouth and the Engine, and I’ll miss his passion and polyglot brilliance as much as his humor.

  16. ( sniff )  ( looks around ) i , ah , i think we’re all bozos on THIS bus ( sniff )
    antelope freeway , 1/256 mile
    dr memory ??  roll up your sleeve and bend over !! no anchovies  ??
    etc for miles

  17. In the late 60s and early 70s my friends and I would get stoned and listen to the albums for hours. We got so good we could recite the words along with the TFT. I saw them in the (late 80s?) in Washington, DC for my birthday, I could remember every line. RIP old man, you brought me joy.

  18. Firesign made my life back then. They should have been as popular as Monty Python at the time, but they did outlast them. I can’t imagine how many comics they influenced – oh, wait, I can: all of them. I first started listening when Radio Free Oz had 4 hours a night on KPFK, and the Oz Firesign Theater was a half-hour segment. I didn’t have a tape recorder then so never got to capture those shows, but I did have one later and got all the Dear Friends weeklies. Back in the ’90s I digitized my collection and posted it to Usenet and then sent the guys my tapes. Some of them were the only copies and they are now on

    “And now the government has asked me please to sign my name to papers just to siphon off a little of my cash.
    “To fight a war, support a whore, or close a park, or build an ark in space – or buy the President some hash…”

    Antelope freeway, 1/512

  19. Um, excuse me don’t excuse you’re making not making The Doctor unhappy happy.

    On to the next bardo, Peter Bergman, thanks for incarnating in our space-time node for this round. Your wit and work sure helped a lot of us through hard times.

    … oh maaaan… he broke the President….

  20. Bummer.  These guys introduced me to humor that had a nice, long flow and recursion.  I guess Pete didn’t beat the reaper!

  21. I saw them live many times, watched all their films, listened to their records endlessly. An amazing trip. A couple of off-the-cuff brilliances from them: the David Susskind interview in 1974 was a genius moment in any interview, ever. Their pre-show interviews on local radio were also surreal and clever – they renamed the local radio station, KDKB, to “KrazyDog, Krazy Boy- that’s 93.3 fffmmm, and 1510 if you am; and we am.” I’ve never thought of those call letters any other way.

  22. The inventor of the word “love-in” and how to speak gibberish to authority–and win.  Firesign’s huge legacy is difficult to evaluate because their material operates below the rational mind, in the subconscious, exposing the connections we make sub- and unconsciously yet seldom acknowledge consciously. When expose a true connection,
    Firesign is close to therapy, as others have often intuitied. This is why many of us have listened to their pieces dozens of times.

  23. Antelope Freeway, 5.15625 feet.

    My dad is a huge Firesign Theater fan and has pretty much the entire Nick Danger sketch memorized. Or should that be regnaD kciN?

  24. I knew this day was coming. I just didn’t expect it so soon.

    I remember hearing Waiting For The Electrician… for the first time ever on the radio and thinking “Who are these crazy guys? It didn’t take me long to realize there were actually 4 or 5 of them!

    But seriously, doesn’t it absolutely suck that great folks like Peter Bergman have to die slowly from cancer while some genuinely evil folks get to live long and at least by their own definition, happy lives?

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