Del Close

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Del Close (March 9, 1934 – March 4, 1999), perhaps the most influential teacher of improvisational theatre of the late twentieth century. An actor, improviser, writer, and teacher, Close had a prolific career, appearing in a number of films and television shows.[1] He was a co-author of the book Truth in Comedy along with partner Charna Halpern, which outlines techniques now common to longform improv and describes the overall structure of “The Harold” which remains a common frame for longer improvisational scenes.

Biography

Close was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas, the son of an inattentive, alcoholic father. He ran away from home at the age of 17 to work on a traveling side show, but returned to attend college at Kansas State University. At the age of 23, he became a member of the Compass Players in St. Louis, Missouri. When most of the cast moved to Chicago in 1959 to help form The Second City, Close instead moved to New York City to perform stand-up comedy, where he also performed in the Broadway musical revue "The Nervous Set" in 1959.

Around this time, Close also worked with John Brent to record the classic beatnik satire album How to Speak Hip. The album became a prized record for DJs worldwide, and was one of Brian Wilson’s favorite comedy albums.

In 1960, Close moved to Chicago – which was to be his home base for much of the rest of his life – to perform and direct with Second City. Close was fired from Second City due to his substance abuse and spent the latter half of the 1960s in San Francisco, where he was the stage manager for The Committee theater, toured with the Merry Pranksters, and made light images for Grateful Dead shows.

After returning to Chicago in the early 1970s, Close was hired again to direct at Second City. He also performed and directed the Second City show in Toronto in 1977. Over the next decade he helped develop many of today’s leading comedians. Acolytes of Del Close have gained prominence in the field of comedy with astounding frequency. At any given time, roughly a quarter of Saturday Night Live’s cast has been composed of his former trainees.

Close spent the 1980s and 1990s teaching improv, collaborating with Charna Halpern in Yes And Productions, while slowly succumbing to emphysema. But he remained active. During this period, Close acted in several movies, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where he played an English teacher. He also co-authored the graphic horror anthology Wasteland for DC Comics with John Ostrander, as well as co-wrote several installments of Grimjack's backup feature Munden's Bar. Finally, along with Charna Halpern he co-founded the ImprovOlympic Theater.

Del's last words were almost, "I’m tired of being the funniest person in the room." It seems to be what he wanted them to be. His last words were actually, "You could have done better."

Before passing away, Close requested that his skull be given to the Goodman Theatre for use in Hamlet productions, on the condition that he should receive credit in the program as Yorick. However, in 2006 it was revealed that an alternate skull was given to the Goodman instead. In honor of Del after his death, his former students the Upright Citizens Brigade created The Del Close Marathon.

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