PianoFight is a San Francisco-based comedy and theater cartel that’s opening an incredible new venue in the Tenderloin (multiple spaces, kitchen, bar, recording studio, and other fun stuff). They also host a podcast that’s funny and provocative. They had us on to talk about arts funding and arts criticism, improv, and our Committee doc. Enjoy!
We were so sad to hear that Garry Goodrow passed away this week. He is such an important piece of The Committee’s story, and while we did get some strong footage of him when he visited SF for last year’s reunion, we didn’t get enough. We look forward to learning more about him, and we will tell his story, but we can no longer get more from him firsthand and that, frankly, sucks.
Garry was an original member of The Committee. He was hired after some success with the Living Theater (he played a major role in the original stage production and film adaptation of Jack Gelber’s Beat era classic, The Connection). Alan Myerson originally wanted Alan Arkin. When Arkin was cast in a show on Broadway, he suggested Goodrow take his place.
If The Committee was a collective of comedian-activists, Garry embodied the role perfectly. He was on the streets as a leader/emcee for the Vietnam Day march in Oakland in 1965. He was a go-to emcee for every kind of counter-culture benefit and rock show throughout the sixties. In the early seventies, when Jane Fonda started the Fuck The Army (FTA) tour, Garry signed on to replace the overworked, burned-out Elliott Gould. Lindsay Goss, a graduate student who is studying the FTA tour, provided us with a package of research that she compiled, which included this gem from the May 10, 1971 edition of the Monterey Peninsula Herald:
Goodrow, formerly of the San Francisco cabaret troupe The Committee, listened to a jet taking off from Monterey Peninsula airport and commented “In many places in the world, that sound means you have to take cover, you have to get your children in this bomb shelter or they’ll be bombed or strafed or napalmed. That’s why I’m in the show. You have to do something.”
After The Committee, Goodrow was cast in National Lampoon’s Lemmings, the pioneering stage show that brought him together with John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, Tony Hendra, Sean Kelly, and others. With that show, he achieved a track record that no one could really match at the time.
Of course he kept playing hard in his later years, reuniting with old friends in Sills & Company shows and spots on WKRP in Cincinnati, and establishing a solid career as a character actor in Dirty Dancing and other films throughout the eighties. Garry lived the role of a comedian embedded in the world, reacting to current events, and simply giving a shit; and that inspires us. The 21st century needs more activists like Garry Goodrow. We hope, as we help tell the story of Garry and The Committee, that more people start to give a shit, do something about it, and start to live in the world.
The man was an original and he is missed.
– Sam Shaw & Jamie Wright
(Michael Dare polaroid used with permission.)
Click the link above for a brief post I did on my production company blog about our interview with John Magnuson, his work with The Committee through his company, Imagination Inc. and his work with Lenny Bruce.
John’s a great guy and made us feel right at home (even as we invaded his with lights and cameras) – he had a house full of grandkids who were really great and incredibly welcoming. Go check out the pic we have on the post…!
A couple weeks ago I went to Camp Improv Utopia to be a counselor at the three-day improvisation intensive set up by Nick Armstrong and his Improv Utopia accomplices. It’s a fantastic gathering of improvisors from around (mostly) the western US, though its reach is starting to grow with the National Improv Network, which has sprung from connections made at camp.
It was there we showed the first semi-public sneak preview of our trailer to a non-Committee audience. I have to admit, I found myself pretty nervous in front of what was likely to be the most supportive audience possible for the project. I swam around in my words for a good minute before I got to the goods and delivered the premise and showed the trailer to a really warm reception of applause and cheers from everyone there in the dining hall.
When I thought of it later, I realized it was the responsibility I felt to all these people who I have so much respect for to tell the story in the best & most truthful way possible – from the teachers, fellow performers, festival producers, and theater owners present from across the US to the members of The Committee not in attendance. I’ve made hundreds of short films, but this is our first feature-length documentary.
I’m taking that nervousness as a reminder to get it right – I think we have a good start…!
I came to improvisation pretty late in life compared to most improvisors. I didn’t see my first show until I was 30 and freshly moved to Amsterdam for multimedia school. I had gotten a job tending bar at Boom Chicago, yet another of Amsterdam’s odd landmarks – a wildly successful and (largely) American improv & sketch comedy show in the heart of Holland. It was amazing.
And as with anyone who has ‘discovered’ improvisation, there was no going back. I started doing projects for the show and pretty soon designed a video system for improvising live video & integrating set video pieces into the show. Owners Andrew Moskos and Ken Schaefle rolled the dice and took me on as video director, an act of blind faith for which I am eternally grateful.
Once I was working full-time in the shows, I had to know more. I asked cast member Jason Sudeikis whose uncle George Wendt had been a stalwart at The Second City, and who had a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the art. When he told me about Second City, Improv Olympic, UCB & The Groundlings, all in Chicago, NYC and LA, I had to ask if San Francisco had a history with improvisation. He said Del Close had worked at a place called The Committee, but that he’d never seen much information on it. It was at that point I knew I had to learn more.
Having grown up in the Bay Area, I had heard of The Committee in the same breath as The Diggers and sit-ins in the Park, but never really knew much about what they did, pretty much rolling it all into street theater and people getting high. What can I say – I grew up in the Reagan Era. Once Sam Shaw, myself, and members of Crisis Hopkins took up the cause of the San Francisco Improv Festival in 2010, we knew the first thing we wanted to do was celebrate the city’s history with improvisation – and that started with The Committee.
As Sam says in his post, we were extraordinarily fortunate to have the cooperation of founding director Alan Myerson in putting together a panel with Carl Gottlieb, Larry Hankin, Allaudin Matthieu, Jim Cranna, and lassoing Del Close’s biographer Kim “Howard” Johnson to moderate. Once I met these people, and looking at the skills and resources we had available, I knew we had to get a documentary going. It’s an amazing story of San Francisco, political activism, theater, and improvisation, with roots in the beginnings of The Compass and Second City and tendrils extending out into the current state of the art and most modern, popular comedy.
Here’s a taste of our first effort with The Committee – one of their classics – reprised with the help of Howard Johnson, in August of 2010: