|Del Close was born on 9th March 1934 in Manhatten, Kansas, USA.
Del Close-Gap Rating 9/10
Along with Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin, He is considered one of the premier influences on modern improvisational theater.
An actor, improviser, writer, and teacher, Close had a prolific career, appearing in a number of films and television shows. He was a co-author of the book Truth in Comedy along with partner Charna Halpern, which outlines techniques now common to longform improvisational theater and describes the overall structure of “Harold” which remains a common frame for longer improvisational scenes. His favorite framework for comedic storytelling was the structures of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
Close was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas. He ran away from home at the age of 17 to join a traveling side show, but returned to attend college at Kansas State. At the age of 23, he became a member of the Compass Players in St. Louis. 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.
Around this time, he worked with John Brent to record the classic beatnik satire album How to Speak Hip (Mercury, 1959), which became a prized record for DJs worldwide and was one of Brian Wilson’s favourite 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 left again, however, 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. 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 comedy improv while slowly succumbing to emphysema. But he remained active. During this period, Close acted in several movies, co-authored the horror anthology Wasteland for DC Comics with John Ostrander, and along with Charna Halpern he co-founded the ImprovOlympic.
Legend has it that Close’s last words were, “I’m tired of being the funniest person in the room.” He donated his skull in his will to the Goodman Theatre for use in Hamlet productions, on the condition that he should receive credit in the program as Yorick.
His famous students include:
- John Belushi
- John Candy
- Stephen Colbert
- Andy Dick
- Chris Farley
- Tina Fey
- Shelly Long
- Mike Myers
- Bill Murray
- Bob Odenkirk
- Amy Poehler
- Gilda Radner
- Harold Ramis
- Andy Richter
- George Wendt
In 2005, Jeff Griggs published Guru, a book detailing his friendship with Del during the last two years of his life. Due to Del’s poor health, Charna Halpern arranged for Griggs to spend every Thursday afternoon with Close and run errands with him. Guru gives a particularly detailed and complete picture of Del. At the beginning of their relationship, Griggs was a student of Del’s, and the book includes various memorable chapters in which Griggs depicts Del as a teacher.
The book has been adapted into a screenplay, and as of March 2006, Harold Ramis is attached to direct the script, although it does not appear that the movie will soon be made. Ramis would like Bill Murray to play Close.