Where’s My Fortune Cookie?
Written by Phil Proctor and Brad Schreiber
Published by Blurb
Released 9/19/17 / $17.95
I’ve never met Phil Proctor but I’ve spoken with him a few times online in relation to our late mutual friend Kip King. Long before that, I was aware of who he was and would recognize him when I saw him in various movie and TV projects.
During the heyday of his comedy troupe, the Firesign Theater, I had no idea what they were all about.
I had discovered Monty Python like most of us in the US, when they debuted on PBS in the early 1970s. I discovered Python’s influence, The Goon Show, when a local college radio station ran it weekly here in the late ‘70s.
It wouldn’t be until the 21st century, though, before I actually listened to the Firesign Theater, also influenced by the Goons and often described as an “American Monty Python.”
Essential to Phil Proctor’s own story, Where’s My Fortune Cookie?, is, inevitably, the story of the Firesign Theater. In fact, though, there is so much more to his personal journey and, if anything, it’s twice as surreal as anything that group ever offered. I literally had to look up a few things to make sure he was telling the truth and not just up to his old absurdist tricks with his readers!
Turns out Firesign was just a lingering stopover in Phil’s long career as a child actor, a Broadway and off-Broadway performer, part of various club acts, album cover designer, TV character actor, radio show host, comedy writer, and cartoon voice actor—among other things.
But what an influential stopover it was, counting as fans Robin Williams, Chevy Chase, John Goodman, George Carlin, and many others who have gone on to make the world laugh just a little bit more.
The Firesign Theater’s humor is tough to describe with any degree of accuracy, the words “absurdist,” “anarchic,” and “surreal” being probably the best words for them. In a way, their albums—with names like, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers and We’re All Bozos On This Bus, are like the underground comix equivalent of old-time radio comedies and dramas.
When I finally listened to them, I realized that even without knowing where they’d come from, I had incorporated some of their catchphrases into my own language, such as “Forward! Into the Past!” While Firesign might work even better whilst chemically enhanced, repeated listenings reward the listener as you start to realize all the audio tricks that have gone into the various LPs. I don’t think I ever laughed actually but I smiled appreciatively a lot at the group’s sheer cleverness, intelligent writing, and originality.
I do much the same with this book. As with anyone, Phil’s trip to now hasn’t been all sweetness and light. In fact, the book opens with a downright scary (but verified real) incident where he and sometime comedy partner Peter Bergman end up nearly being killed in a restaurant by the Chinese mafia!
In an odd way, Phil Proctor’s story, at least from time to time, is also the late Peter Bergman’s story. Bergman was a bit more out there than Phil—politically, societally, humorously—but the two played off each other perfectly, so much so that when the Firesign Theater was inactive for long periods at a time, Proctor and Bergman would often tour or do TV specials or movies like the great J-Men Forever (made from redubbing old movie serials) or the fun misfire, Americathon.
The early chapters here are my favorite, with Phil acknowledging over and over his personal influences throughout his nearly lifelong career in show business, even as he has to put up with bullies and false hope and disappointments as he never quite makes a complete success in spite of many opportunities.
Peter pops in and out after Phil becomes an adult, and the two become fast friends and creative partners in spite of Peter’s sometimes selfishness. The Firesign Theater—so named because all four members were astrological fire signs—sprung from that friendship.
The book’s title, Where’s My Fortune Cookie?, is a clear reference to the Chinese restaurant incident but after a life of bizarre adventures on record, on radio, on stage and in the real world, that title comes around again, surreally, at the end of the book, thanks to the by then late Mr. Bergman.
In spite of his warts and all telling of the drugs, the orgies, and the struggles and fighting on both sides of the metaphorical footlights, Phil Proctor comes across as he always has—a genial, clever, nice, amusing man who can tell one heck of a story and really make you care about the characters you meet along the way.
If you’re a fan of Firesign Theater or Proctor and Bergman, it’s a must. If you have no idea who any of these people are, it’s probably past time you learned who influenced so much of today’s comedy.