"it is impossible not to be moved by this performer...with her lush, sultry & robust voice, Willson can get a rise out of a stone statue."
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Q: What do John Belushi, John Candy, Stephen Colbert, Andy Dick, Chris Farley, Ana Gasteyer, Shelley Long, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis and George Wendt have in common?
A: Del Close.
Q: Who the heck is Del Close?
A: Actor, writer, improviser, author and teacher; Del Close is considered to be one of the most notable influences on modern improvisational theater.
Great comedy, like great jazz, is born from improvisation. Improvisation relies heavily on raw talent, finely honed skill, being present in the moment and fully committed to the integrity and truth to be found in art.
Del Close was born March 9,1934 in Manhattan, Kansas and ran away from home at age 17 to join a traveling side show. In 1959, Close moved to New York City, where he performed stand up comedy, appeared on Broadway in a musical review “The Nervous Set” and, along with actor and producer John Brent, recorded the classic beatnik satire album “how to speak Hip”, which remains a prized recording for dj's worldwide (and is also said to be one of Brian Wilson's favorite comedy albums). In 1960, Close moved to Chicago, where he spent much of the rest of his life, to perform and direct The Second City. A few years later, supposedly due to his substance abuse problems, Close was fired from The Second City and moved to San Francisco, where he toured with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, stage managed the Committee Theater in North Beach and made some memorable psychedelic light images for Grateful Dead shows. In the 1970's Close returned to Chicago and was re-hired to direct at The Second City, where he also nurtured and developed many of today's leading comedians, as well as playing an important role in the development of SCTV.
Over the last 25 years, during any given season, roughly a quarter of Saturday Night Live's cast has been composed of former Del Close disciples. Close eventually succumbed to emphysema, but remained active right up to his death in 1999, appearing in films such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", as well as writing and continuing to mentor up and coming talent.
Before his passing, Close requested that his skull be given to the Goodman Theater for use in productions of Hamlet, on the condition that he receive credit in the program as Yorick. Legend has it that Del Close's last words were “I'm tired of being the funniest person in the room”. After his death, Close's longtime creative partner and co-founder of ImprovOlympic, Charna Halpern, presented the Goodman with the skull and it soon became a Chicago legend, appearing on stage in several
In an October 2006 interview in the New Yorker magazine, Halpern revealed that, due to the impossibility of getting the hospital pathologists to agree to remove Close's head from his body, she actually had him cremated and then purchased a skull from a medical supply company. She maintains that the substitution was never intended as a hoax. “Del and I were improvisers, and improvisers always say yes to each other's ideas on stage, make them work”.