From Publishers Weekly
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.
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*Starred Review* Actor, director, and improv guru Del Close is best remembered as teacher, director, and mentor of several generations of much more famous comic actors, including John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, and Chris Farley. Griggs' memoir recounts Close's last year, during which Griggs was a combination errand boy, chauffeur, and man Friday for Close. Griggs took the job in return for free acting classes with Close at Close's theater, the Chicago-based ImprovOlympic. Griggs' account follows a predictable, if natural, arc. Early on, the notoriously prickly and sharp-tongued Close holds the only somewhat less prickly and sharp-tongued Griggs at a distance and cuts him no slack. As time goes on, however, Griggs earns Close's begrudging trust as Close takes Griggs on a series of unlikely adventures in the most mundane locations: bank lobbies, grocery stories, city streets at night. Griggs alternates his recollections with chapters devoted to Close's life and work; his troubled youth in Manhattan, Kansas; his days as a director for the Committee and the Second City; and his many experiments with turning Viola Spolin-style theatrical improvisation into an art. Griggs writes like an inspired amateur, and much of the book reads like a series of quickly written blog entries. Griggs' prose may be rough, but it is also energetic and heartfelt, honest and utterly riveting. Jack HelbigCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved