Harry’s Hundred: No. 18

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Humor, Music
Tags: , , , ,

“Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” by the Firesign Theatre (1970)

The Firesign Theatre’s third album does feature some snatches of music, notably the faux hymn “The Rough-as-a-cob March” and the theme from “High School Madness.” But the vast majority is spoken word, and an incredibly effective approach, at that: The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983) calls it “the greatest comedy album ever made.”

The four-member troupe – Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Proctor – began as live radio performers in Los Angeles and gained enough of a following to sign a contract with Columbia Records. Its first album, “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him” (1968), deviated from other comedy records of the time, which mainly documented comics’ live acts. Instead, “Electrician” presented four sketches satirizing such subjects as the Europeans’ conquest of Indians, the hippie subculture and paranoiac views of American society. A highlight is included as part of the title track, which takes up all of Side 2: “Beat the Reaper,” a mock game show in which the contestant is injected with a disease and must guess what it is in order to win the antidote.

The following year, the Firesign Theatre released “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All,” famed for its cover that states, “All Hail Lennon and Marx,” with accompanying portraits of John and Groucho. The record is split into two sketches, one per side, with one offering a hilarious spoof of the detective story genre in “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger.”

In 1970 came “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers,” which spreads a single sketch over both sides of the record, providing the listener with approximately 43 minutes of sustained laughter. For a synopsis, here’s Mr. Austin in the liner notes for the 1987 Mobile Fidelity Sound CD release:

“Dwarf” is the story of the five ages of Man and, in particular, the five ages of George Leroy Tirebiter, a man named after a dog. (The dog, the immortal George Tirebiter, was the doughty unofficial mascot of USC athletic teams in earlier times, renowned for his devotion to attacking the spinning wheels of large American automobiles.) …

The five ages of George Leroy Tirebiter are these:

  • Tirebiter the Child, called Peorge or Peorgie
  • Tirebiter the College Student, called George Tirebiter Camden N200-R
  • Tirebiter the Soldier, called Lt. Tirebiter
  • Tirebiter the Actor, called Dave Casman
  • Tirebiter the Old Man, called George Leory Tirebiter

The fable begins with a religious service based on those basic needs, the need to eat and the need to expel waste material. A disgruntled young man, George Tirebiter Camden N200-R (Camden N200-R is a last name in this world of sectors and restrictions), is so hungry and so immobile at 4 in the morning that he must depend for sustenance on the television religion of Pastor Rod Flash and the offer of an electronic Sacrament, a steaming heap of commercially available chicken fingers, sheep dip pies and tubs of slaw to any devotee who will reach into the television set and partake of the glowing host. Tirebiter partakes and is plunged into his personal hour of reckoning.

He will see himself portrayed as Peorgie, the insipid young hero of a potboiler called “High School Madness” about communism and its assault on student life; as a vaguely political candidate who cannot confront either side in the mysterious battle between political forces; as a seasoned combat soldier who not only cannot give the order to kill but cannot even say the word; and as the actor who plays all these parts and can finally only walk out of his own business because of his inability to make up his mind about matters of conscience; and as the old director, pursued by the ghosts of the past, a past dominated by what he sees as his fatal mistake, that somehow he “sold out” the original comic genius which presumably gave him his start.

It is, finally, the selling out that is his key to this confusing world. Selling out is a theme that comes to predominate in the story. Adults sell out the kids at both Communist Martyrs Hi and Morse Science Hi. Gen. Klein sells out Lt. Tirebiter and the movie studio itself. George accuses himself of selling out, and through it all is the barrage of commercial advertisements whose simplest message is sell, sell, sell.

When Tirebiter discovers he got into this mess by selling out and that he can get out by selling out again, he does not find himself returned to his original self, but is left in the guise of the old man, pursued by the past, forever striving to become a little child again: an infantile figure forever chasing a receding ice cream wagon.

As confusing as that may seem, it’s an accurate summation from one of the creators. Take a listen, and you’ll start to understand.

And you’ll have plenty of laughs doing so.

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