Del Close Close Up, by Mike Gold
Well, it’s about time.
Author Kim Howard Johnson, former comics newsman (the late, lamented Comics Scene), occasional comic book writer (Superman: True Brit, with John Cleese and John Byrne), and frequent ComicMix commenter, has written the definitive biography of his mentor, collaborator and friend, comedy legend Del Close.
It’s called The Funniest One In The Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close (Chicago Review Press, $24.95), and I’ll admit right off it’s impossible for me to not absolutely love a book in which I am mentioned in the second paragraph. I could have titled this column “Me and My Ego” but, no, this one’s about Del’s ego.
Comics fans may be familiar with Del’s work in collaboration with John Ostrander on Munden’s Bar during its original First Comics run, and/or their work together on the even-more-over-the-top Wasteland, the one we did at DC Comics. In fact, it was Del who suggested the title.
Students of American cultural history know Del as a Shakespearean actor who also performed on television and in movies and plays by Steve Martin, Jules Feiffer, William Saroyan, Judge Julius Hoffman, and Kaufman and Hart. But he is best known for his work as a director, teacher and mentor to – to name but a very, very few – John and Jim Belushi; Brian Doyle, Joel, and Bill Murray; Howard Hessman; Rob Reiner; Joe Flaherty; Harold Ramis; Betty Thomas; George Wendt; Tim Kazurinsky; John Candy; Chris Farley. Tim Meadows; Andy Richter; Stephen Colbert; Steve Carell; Kim Yale… and literally hundreds more. Oh, yeah… he was also rehearsal director of Saturday Night Live for a couple years and he created the format for SCTV.
The title for Howard’s preposterously well-researched book comes from Del’s doubtlessly inventoried “last words.” Del checked out of this plane with the phrase “I’m tired of being the funniest one in the room.” He was that; he was also the most dangerous one in the room. He mastered the philosophy of “always affirm,” always go with what’s going on and turn it into something brilliant. He encouraged actors and writers to work with their excesses, to take their personal extremes and mold them into the needs of the story. There were never any barriers when Del was involved; that’s why he was rehearsal director ofSNL but not involved with the tightly-controlled on-air production.
Del Close was a true genius, and I am proud to say I was among the legion of mere humans who regarded him as our mentor.
Kim Howard Johnson, old pal, you did him well.
I would like to point out that tomorrow, April 29th, at 6:00 PM there will a tribute to Del and a book party for Howard at The Second City e.t.c. Theatre, 1608 N. Wells Street, in Chicago. I’ll be there, as will Tim Kazurinsky and many others of Del’s minions. The author, certainly, will be there. So will Del.
And he’ll still be the funniest one in the room.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.