Happy 77th, Del Close!
March 9, 2011 would have been Del Close's 77th birthday. There's a lot of talk about Del and his work in high terms and glowing praise, but some people have had different experiences with him.
I took his class almost non-stop for a year and, without hyperbole, I can say that it changed my life and how I look at it. People who were in the same exact class as I have said that they didn't even enjoy the class, much less learn from it. And there are people, well-respected, talented improvisers, who didn't care for the class either. There are people who say that he was a racist, sexist, drug-glorifying hippie. And there are people who say he was a high mystic, a mage who saw people in terms of potential and magic.
So, which is correct? The guru or the asshole?
Both, I imagine. It all depends on how you arrived at class. I knew nothing and came with nothing... I arrived in Chicago with a head full of steam; sure that I was just a breath away from fame and glory. I easily dominated my first level at both Second City
with my powerful intellect and quick wit... but then when it came time to actually doing a scene with emotions, I was adrift. I (probably in real life as well) couldn't connect with my partner and easily made it all about the jokes or a quick reference.
Del taught me to look at improv differently. To consider it a play, performed with honesty and intelligence.. that my relationship with my partner was more important than him or me individually.
We weren't best friends. We spoke often on comic books, movies and the news, but we never had a lunch or anything. He was a mentor and he was kind to me.
Happy Birthday, Del.
Here is a link to a podcast
where I interview Charna Halpern, Del's partner in long-form improvisation. She's the owner and operator of the iO Theater and this was recorded on March 7th, in the Del Close Theater. Or you can search under "Poor Choices" podcast on iTunes.