A legend of improvisational theater, Del Close is best known for discovering and cultivating the talents of John Belushi, Chris Farley, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, and countless other comedy giants. Jeff Griggs was a student of Close's at the ImprovOlympic in Chicago when he was asked to help the aging mentor (often in ill health) by driving him around the city on his weekly errands. The two developed a volatile friendship that shocked, angered, and amused both of them—and produced this hilarious and ultimately endearing chronicle of Close's last years. "As Socrates was to learning, Lenin was to communism, and Al Sloan was to General Motors, so Del Close was the force that impelled Second City and Improv. Griggs's portrait is touching, funny and captures Del's essence beautifully."—Dan Aykroyd. Already optioned for a major motion picture.
The father of improvisational theater and an inspiration for such comedians as John Belushi, Bill Murray and Chris Farley, Close was once called "the Ted Kaczynski of modern comedy," and his alternately brilliant and self-destructive personality is compellingly recorded in this anecdotal biography. Griggs, a friend and former student of Close's who assisted the ailing artist with his errands during the latter years of his life, takes readers on a jarring and otherworldly journey through the byways of Chicago, recounting the conversations and wild experiences that he shared with the eccentric comedian. Tales of Close's explosive, sometimes harsh teaching style (he was fond of yelling and of cutting people up with criticism when they made mistakes) will make readers cringe in sympathy for his students, but Griggs's description of the relationship between Close and Farley brings out the artist's humanity. By the end, Close emerges as a complex figure-a dedicated teacher, a brilliant comedian, a lonely artist and a suicidal misfit who was consistently outrageous and seemingly obsessed with himself. (Before his death on March 4, 1999, Close made Griggs promise to find a way to keep his skull and ashes in the Del Close Theater at Improv Olympic so that he could still "affect the work.") Griggs's descriptions of Close's filthy living habits and his obscene bombast will put some readers off their lunch and, by focusing almost exclusively on private, affectionate anecdotes, Griggs is rarely able to convey the enormity of Close's talent. However, this book succeeds as a personal tribute to a tortured but beloved friend.