‘It’s very interesting, we really did have a cultural effect that we certainly did not plan to have. We basically wanted to make smart people laugh. It was both a blessing and a curse. By deciding to elevate the nature of comedy, we limited our audience from the very beginning.
September 28th, 2017. It’s not every day your first book that tells stories of your life, Where’s My Fortune Cookie?, is released. It’s also not every day that you perform in front of a crowd of 500 fans for a concert at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. But very little in Phil Proctor’s life can ever be considered to be among normal standards.
Most people only get to experience living one life. Phil Proctor has lived way more than that. Having started as a child actor on TV and on stage through his early 20’s, performing all over the world, becoming part of a legendary comedy group, Firesign Theatre to eventually securing a place in the voice-over world, Phil Proctor’s life is the sort of thing that will give you whiplash as you read his book. Just when you think he’s doing one thing, he’s onto the next. It’s the sort of unpredictability that you often hear about in Hollywood careers. But seldom do you hear of that career spanning 65 years.
The thing Phil Proctor is probably best known for, however, is being one of the members of The Firesign Theatre, alongside Peter Bergman, Phil Austin, and David Ossman. The legendary comedy group, which built quite a name for itself with their counter-culture aimed comedy records, all started on the radio of all places.
“KPFK, listener supported radio, is where we started on Peter Bergman’s show, ‘Radio Free Oz,” says Proctor, on the phone from D.C., the afternoon following their Library of Congress performance. “Then we moved onto KRLA, which was the largest commercial station in L.A. at the time, and we broadcast a version of Radio Free Oz live from the Magic Mushroom on Ventura Boulevard. What we would do on that show is Peter Bergman, who was the ultimate host and straight man for the psychedelic new age generation of followers that famously put him on the map out there, we would interview famous musicians like David Crosby or Mama Kass or Linda Rondstat, and they would play their music or talk to Peter. And then the group The Firesign, would perform a half hour surrealistic comedy piece in the style of ‘The Goon Shows’, which had inspired us so much in England.”
It’s not hard to imagine that the idea of such a loose and culturally different radio program wouldn’t go over too well with the networks in those days. And while it was on the radio that they got to discover their voice as a group, it was through their comedy albums that The Firesign Theatre really got to run free, and do everything they wanted to do, all limitations be damned.
“The birth of it came from a union really by chance, of 4 comic minds who were allowed a fairly uncensored format on listener-supported Pacifica Radio, progressive radio. And that is, in many ways, a platform that allowed for individual expression, without a commercial or production overlay that would color the kind of material that we could create. We were in a freeform freefall environment, and could therefore play together to discover our own unique voice in the comic pantheon. And that lead, once we actually got a recording contract, to a series of amazingly innovative comic products that we put out, uncensored comic product and people could play it in the privacy of their own home, that revolutionized in many ways the idea of a funny recording, of a comic recording.”
The Firesign Theatre went onto produce many albums throughout their 50 years in the comedy lexicon. Starting in 1968, Firesign has been responsible for more than 2 dozen comedy records that have singlehandedly shaped the way in which comedy is consumed, having it have the distinction of being more like an interactive radio play than the typical comedy records of that era.
And just how strong was the impact that Firesign had on the culture? Pick up your iPhone and say to Siri, “This is worker speaking. Hello.” Her response will always be the same. “Hello Aclem. What service can I provide for you? LOL.” This is a direct reference to the character Aclem, a computer hacker, from the album I Think We’re All Bozo’s on This Bus.
“I met Steve Jobs in Oakland, California at a cast and crew premiere of A Bugs Life for Pixar, in which David Ossman and I both played roles in,” Proctor remembers. He revealed to me that he was a Firesign Theatre fan, and therefore, that is why he put that homage with Siri into his program. He was inspired by that album Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand me the Pliers to continue to evolve the home computer as a revolutionary device to change the face of society and the world, and I’m very honored that he chose to acknowledge that in that wonderful little Easter Egg in Siri.”
Where’s My Fortune Cookie, is a hard book to describe exactly what it is. As you read it, it becomes pretty evident that the book is not a memoir. The book is not meant to recount various experiences from a storied life. Instead, you get the sense that everything that Phil Proctor is talking about serves a higher purpose. There is something much more to all of this than simply what is on the surface.
Or as Proctor explains it, “Where’s My Fortune Cookie, is a book about my psychic experiences, psychedelic and psychic interactions with my partners and my partners in life, and my experiences in life and how the Firesign Theatre was integrated into a crazy coincidental flow of events that lead me to the point where I am today, where such things are still happening. I did study the techniques of higher consciousness, and I am aware of the effects that ones mind can have on the nature of all things, and certainly on how to create goals for yourself that your mind, your body, and your spirit will help you create in the world.”
For instance, back in 1977 Proctor and Peter Bergman were victims of the Golden Dragon Massacre in San Francisco, which at that time, was the biggest massacre that the city had ever seen. It’s his recollection of this that starts off the book in Chapter 1. And from that moment, you realize that you’re not just reading a laundry list of things that one man has done. You are really gathering the core essence of weird instances that had occurred in one man’s life, that all make up one bigger picture. There are countless references to dreams that he has that lead way to essentially coinciding with reality.
“A lot of what I’m writing about is my subjective memory about things. I’ve been able to confirm with certain friends in my life and people I’ve connected with in my life and clean up certain stories that I’ve told, so that they’re a little more accurate. But for the most part, I think life for most people is a confabulation, a fantasy based on ones recollections and things that have happened. Because we’re not asked to be totally accurate. So our lives become in many ways recollections of things, stories that we tell ourselves, stories that we tell others. And it’s not to say that it isn’t true, it’s just not necessarily accurate.”
For all of the things that Phil Proctor has accomplished over the course of his life, Firesign Theatre is always going to be one of the things that he is most remembered for. That’s because they had done something that, at the time, nobody had seen before.
Basically reflects Proctor, just as he’s heading downstairs at the hotel to be a guest of honor following his performance the night before, “What we did with our comedy was that we tried to create an environment in which you can go from one place to another place without having to explain how you got there because the explanation of connection was more unconscious, more subliminal, more mind-manifesting, more psychedelic, more one thing makes you think of another thing. And therefore, you can go to that other place. Which is really consciousness, that’s what consciousness is all about. It’s perception.”