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The Firesign Theatre is an American comedy group; its members are (left to right in the photo) Philip Proctor, the late Peter Bergman, the late Phil Austin, and David Ossman. Their albums parody the usual radio and comedy album tropes.
Working in radio in the 1960s, they started releasing albums in 1968, debuting with Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him and followed in successive years by How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?; Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus and others. Their comedy was based around improvisation and surrealism, with a touch of social commentary buried deep below the surface. Many of their longer pieces seem to be set in a bizarre and somewhat darker Alternate Universe that still somehow manages to bear a direct relevance to our own.
They also made at least two movies, one a film version of Nick Danger: Third Eye and J-Men Forever
You can learn more about them at their Web site.
The Firesign Theatre is the Trope Namer for:
The Firesign Theatre employs, parodies, inverts or subverts the following tropes:
- Alternate Universe: Many of their sketches — especially the whole of Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers — seem to take place in a world that's about six degrees closer to a twisted counterpart of 1984 than our own is.
- The Backwards R: The cover of their LP How Can You Be In Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?, with its "All Hail Marx and Lennon" poster (which is the page image for that trope).
- Badass Longcoat: Parodied by Nick Danger, Third Eye
- Bald of Awesome: Cast member Peter Bergman
- Breast Expansion: Booby Chew
- Brick Joke: Scattered everywhere through their albums.
- Cloudcuckoolander: All of them.
- Cluster F-Bomb [context?]
- Continuity Nod: Out there, somewhere, there is a Firesign Theatre fan who is making a life's labour of love out of laying out the Theatre's huge and intricate web of in-jokes and (self-, meta-, self-meta-)references.
- Cool, Clear Water: Parodied by the "advertisement" for "Bear Whiz Beer":
It's in the water! That's why it's yellow!
- Culture Police: "Le Trente-Huit Cunegonde", on Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, describes a hippie-run future where drug use and rebellion are rigorously enforced by the Establishment.
- Dawson Casting: Parodied on Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, when high school hero Porgie's best friend, Mudhead, admits he's 30 years old.
- Deadly Game: "Beat the Reaper", "Stab from the Past"
- Department of Redundancy Department: Trope Namer, mentioned in pasing on Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.
- Emergency Presidential Address: In an episode of "Nick Danger" (a parody of old private dick radio shows), the moment of climax is cut off by a special announcement from the president.
- Flash Back Back Back: Nick Danger
- Former Child Star: George "Porgie" Tirebiter, on Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers
- Funny Aneurysm Moment: On the 1980 album Fighting Clowns they have a song called "Reagan" which includes the line "and it's never too late to lose again". This song was later released as a single, with, as its B-side, a song called, "Carter", where they talk about Jimmy Carter winning re-election, then being followed by eight years of Mondale.
- Funny Background Event: It often pays to try and listen for what's going on in the background.
- Gag Dub: Their most successful film project, 1979's J-Men Forever, took several '30s serials about catching spies and criminals and turned them into the adventures of a federal agency fighting for, among other things, our God-given rights to smoke dope and enjoy non-rock music.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Numerous rapidfire instances throughout their works. Just a sample, from the movie-within-an-album "High School Madness", on Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers:
Dad: Where is Porgie, anyhow?
Mom: He's upstairs, helping Porcelain make the bed.
Porcelain: Oh, Porgie! Oh my, oh my, oh my!
Mom: (off) Porgie! Porgie Tirebiter!
Porgie: C... c... c... coming, Mother!
- This opening sequence is a very direct parody of the opening of the 1940s radio/TV show The Aldrich Family.
- Genius Bonus: A typical feature of their comedic style.
"It's like in the Army, you know? The great prince issues commands, founds states, vests families with fiefs. Inferior people should not be employed."—Nick Danger, from the album How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All? This is a hexagram from the I Ching.
- Another example would be things such as the cover art for Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. They are done up as their respective astrological signs, which are all "Fire Signs".
- Gratuitous Panning: We're All Bozos On This Bus
- Hardboiled Detective: Nick Danger, Third Eye
- Hollywood Apocrypha: "Toad Away". And lo, there came unto them Philip, called Punter...
- Hostile Show Takeover: Briefly attempted by Young Guy's Battle Butler, Rotonoto, in "Young Guy Motor Detective Radio Prison".
- Attempted by Sergeant (err, Lieutenant) Bradshaw when he thinks he's got the goods on Nick Danger.
- Hurricane of Puns: Most notably in Anythynge You Want To and Nick Danger skits: "There was something fishy about the butler. I think he was a Pisces, probably working for scale."
- Their Sherlock Holmes burlesque "The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra" is a veritable thick, English industrial fog of puns, often four or five (crazee) levels deep:
Hemlock Stones: No no no, Crouton, old man -- you might as well ask who's behind the Giant Rat of Sumatra.
Dr. John Flotsam: Oh, very well, Stones, whose behind IS the Giant Rat of Sumatra?
Stones: (beat) Damn, you're fats, Waller.
Stones: (quickly) Er, fast, Fatson.
- Injun Country: "Temporarily Humboldt County"
- Larynx Dissonance: Being all men, they do male and female characters. Some of the female ones, especially those voiced by Phil Austin, are downright eerie.
- Listeners Are Geniuses: A core value of their comedy.
- Long Title: Most of their albums, although most notably How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All?
- Mathematician's Answer: "Where're you from?" "Nairobi, ma'am. Isn't everybody?"
- Mighty Whitey: Lampshaded in the movie-within-an-album "High School Madness" on Don't Touch That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. After the school disappears, a bunch of Latino students arrive out of nowhere and ask Porgie for advice because he's a white man and will know exactly what to do, leaving his buddy, Mudhead, to wonder "where did all these Mexicans come from?"
- Mushroom Samba: In W.C. Fields Forever, listeners are guided through a utopian hippie commune. Pretty much everyone can be assumed to be on drugs here, but the only one overtly taking them is Tiny Dr. Tim, Keeper of the Sacred Tablets (here, have a tablet). When a horse enters the scene he exclaims "Whoah! Nice paisley horsie! Give the nice paisley horsie some sugar cubes!" The horse runs off trumpeting like an elephant.
- Noodle Implements [context?]
- Opening Narration: Nick Danger
- Painting the Fourth Wall: How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All? has Nick Danger listen to the other side of the record.
- They painted, remodeled, knocked out windows, and added aluminum siding to the fourth wall.
- Actually, most of the Theatre's work was recorded in the specially constructed Fourth Wall Annex, which was M.C. Escher's only known foray into architectural design.
- The audio Nick hears is a clip from the other side played backwards. "It's OK: they're speaking Chinese."
- Parody: Practically the defining value of their work.
- Private Eye Monologue: Nick Danger engages in these constantly. And how does he make his voice do that?
- Psycho Electro: "The Electrician", most prominently featured in "Hemlock Stones and the Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra".
- The Electrician notably fails to appear in their first album, Waiting For The Electrician Or Someone Like Him.
- "I'm The Electrician, and the world is my oyster! Except for the months with an "R" in them!"
- Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud
- Sdrawkcab Name: At one point Nick Danger reads the name on his office door as "Regnad Kcin".
- Sherlock Holmes: Parodied by "Hemlock Stones".
- Shout-Out: Numerous, often buried in parody. For instance, the quote under Getting Crap Past the Radar is a reference to movie/radio character Henry Aldrich; Once an Episode his mother would call him — "Henry, Henry Aldrich!" — and in a voice cracking with adolescence he'd respond, "Coming, Mother!"
- Show Within a Show: Nearly half of Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers is the soundtrack of "High School Madness", a mythical teen movie made during an equally mythical version of the 1940s and/or 1950s. Another quarter is the soundtrack of the mythical Korean War and/or Vietnam War movie "Babes In Khaki"/"Parallel Hell!". Much of the rest is snippets of various TV shows "overheard" while a character is channel-surfing.
- Smithical Marriage [context?]
"Well, I couldn't get you to believe my name is Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, could I?" "Well, of course you can. It's so nice to have you with us, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. [ding] Front!" from How Can You Be in Two Places at Once*
- Take That: A sly one to The Residents in Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death with the "Guys in Eyeball Hats", described as "Mumbling, Millenial Morons"
- The Goon Show: Early Firesign was under heavy Goonish influence. The original Hemlock Stones adventure, By The Light of the Silvery, is done in perfect Goons style, right down to the voices.
- Token Minority: Lampshaded with the Mexican students in "High School Madness". See Mighty Whitey above.
- Tomato in the Mirror [context?]
- What's a Secret Four: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers is full of all kinds of apparently random throwaway details that give a bizarre dystopian Zeerust feel to the setting of its action.
- Which Me?: In one Nick Danger flashback, he and his flashback self get confused about who's the current narrator.
- Who Writes This Crap? [context?]
- Word Salad Title: Most of their albums and tracks have these.
- "Young Guy Motor Detective Radio Prison" parodies the supposed Japanese penchant for such titles. Like many of the Japanese examples, there's a fairly straightforward explanation ("Radio Prison" is the episode title) that it's more entertaining to ignore.