Before Cheech and Chong, before National Lampoon, before Monty Python, there was the Firesign Theater, the comedy team of the late 60s and early 70s whose wild, surreal, intricate audio satire remains unmatched even today. Rolling Stone once declared their iconic album Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970) the greatest comedy album ever made. I think that assessment holds up, but regrettably, this masterpiece is less well known as the decades roll by.
Funny names fall less thickly than you’d expect in the Firesign universe. Nevertheless, within its warped, recursive, self-referential space we can encounter such characters as Nick Danger (private eye), Chester Cadaver, and Peorgie Tirebiter. Peorgie and his sidekick Mudhead spoof Archie and Jughead, as well as corny teen hijinx flicks from the fifties and sixties. The pair may also pay homage to Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebbs.
Peorgie and Mudhead appear in a story within a story within Don’t Crush That Dwarf when a late night B movie, High School Madness, airs on the “Howl of the Wolf” program (“Presenting honest stories of working people as told by rich Hollywood stars”) while the TV plays in the run-down apartment of a hapless fellow named George Tirebiter (. . . ?).
Moderately high content warning here.
As Peorgie and Mudhead drive to their graduation, they recall an address by Principal Poop at a pep rally the day before:
Heckler: Eat it!
Principal Poop: You bet.
Heckler: Eat it raw!
Principal Poop: Rah, rah, rah. That’s the spirits we have here.
Principal Poop: So come on, kids. Line up, sign up, and re-enlist today, because we need more schooling, for more students, for Morse Science High.
Peorgie actually has other plans, which should serve as a model for graduates everywhere:
Right after I graduate I’m gonna cut the soles off my shoes, sit in a tree, and learn to play the flute!
But when Peorgie and Mudhead arrive, they get an earth-shattering surprise . . .
Peorgie: Holy Mudhead, mackerel! Morse Science High . . . It’s . . . disappeared!
We never learn how, or why, or whether Morse Science’s rival Commie Martyrs High is involved. Technical difficulties keep interrupting the broadcast and then the loopy, fragmentary narrative of the album moves on. But before it does, Principal Poop urges calm in an emergency message:
All of us want to know . . . just as much as I want to know who’s responsible . . . and until we do I must make my dirty cl . . . duty clean . . . clear and announce the suspendering of the upcoming graduating exercises which can not . . . and will . . . which aren’t taking place.
But don’t worry! Don’t worry! Your food, housing, insecurity, will be guaranteed by your Department of Redundancy Department and the Natural Guard. And remember trust pressers will be persecuted.
So please, stay where you are, don’t move, and don’t panic! Don’t take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way.