Peter Bergman, founder of the Firesign Theater comedy troupe, died early Friday in Los Angeles of complications from leukemia. He was 72.
Bergman got his showbiz start as the host of a radio comedy program on pubcaster KPFK-FM Los Angeles. “Radio Free
Oz” spawned the Firesign Theater, comprised of Bergman, Phil Austin, David Ossman and Phil Proctor.
The group, known for its absurdist humor and pointed political commentary, fielded numerous successful comedy albums in their heyday in the late 1960s and early ’70s, including “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him,” “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All,” “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” and “I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.”
Born in Cleveland, Bergman formed his first comedy group while in high school, making a record that spoofed the 1956 Democratic National Convention. He studied economics and theater at Yale U. before logging a six-month stint in the Army.
He worked briefly in London with British comic legend Spike Milligan before returning to the U.S., where he landed a latenight
slot on KPFK.
Bergman was credited with coining the term “love-in” (a variation on sit-in). The success of a 1967 stunt he organized — it drew 67,000 people and snarled L.A. traffic — spurred Columbia Records to offer Firesign its first recording contract.
The Firesign Theater has remained active over the years, and in 2010 Bergman revived “Radio Free Oz” as a podcast with Ossman. He also worked as a newswriter and producer for CBS’ KFWB-AM in 2009.