Peter Bergman, RIP


Peter Bergman, best known for being a part of the comedy quartet called the Firesign Theater, died last night of complications from Leukemia. He was 72. As I wrote in Reason a few years ago, the records produced by Bergman's group "told dense, non-linear stories, with scenes linked by the logic of dreams, puns, free association, late-night channel-surfing, and a psychedelic anti-authoritarianism that wasn't so different from the libertarian politics of The Prisoner or the Illuminatus! trilogy. (At one point the Firesigns mulled the idea of optioning Illuminatus!, but they never followed through.)" I should have added that the albums were also extremely funny, yielding to repeated listenings in a way that the typical comedy LP does not.

The group's members also dabbled in stage and film—Bergman and fellow Firesign Phil Proctor wrote the play that became the 1979 movie Americathon, praised here by Reason's own Tim Cavanaugh—and they had an innovative radio career, which I discussed in my 2001 book Rebels on the Air. For a small taste of their humor, here's an improvised radio bit they did in the early '70s:

For an exceptional example of their more extended work, try Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974), as good a window as any on the days of Erich von Däniken and Evel Knievel. Bergman plays at least seven roles in it, as well as co-writing the script. I'm sad at the thought that he won't be writing and performing any more.