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Guru: My Days with Del Close Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 25, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 Helbig
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R Dee (April 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566636140
  • ASIN: B0076TSISE
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. E. Pearlman on March 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What impressed me most about this book was not Griggs' compelling portrayal of Del Close (although I loved it), nor the way that it filled in gaps in Close's biography that I only had to guess at before. What I liked most about it was Griggs' descriptions of what it's like to be an improviser in the scene; taking classes, being in ensembles and learning from giants. I certainly can relate, and that's what helped make this book such an essential read for me. This book is a must for disciples of Close. It's funny, touching, wonderfully human, highly informative. It made me feel like I had gotten to know Close well. After reading this book, I truly wish I had that honor.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I couldn't put the book down. I loved Mr. Griggs' invocation of Del Close.

For improvisers it's a must-read: you witness Del's clarity and passion regarding the craft.

For you pop-culture buffs, it's a must read: you get to learn of Del's impact on American comedy, and his intersections with 1960s counterculture.

For those who love a good story, it's a must read: I loved how seemingly innocuous errands became adrenaline rushing adventures, and was fascinated by the reflections of a man who lived a tremendously full life.

With his book, Mr. Griggs took me back to when I studied under Del in 1998. Seven years later, his teaching is very much vital and relevant to us as we are building a longform improv community in Houston, TX. Thanks for your work, Jeff. Well done!
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Format: Hardcover
True genius - that of visionary and driving force caliber - is rarely seen and even less seldom acknowledged during one's own lifetime. Del Close, the father of long-form improvisational theatre and the idea of improv as an art form, casts a long shadow as the central figure of Guru: My Days with Del Close, by Jeff Griggs.

In a mentor/protégée dynamic reminiscent of Ronald Harwood's "The Dresser", Griggs - a young, talented performer - finds himself entrusted with, at first, weekly errands for the slowly ailing Close. A somewhat odd pairing from the start - the ever-rebellious, outspoken and temperamental Close and the somewhat reserved, patient Griggs - find they are alike at the very core as both are insightful, driven and passionate about the work on stage. In his teachings at IO (formerly ImprovOlympic) in Chicago - along with Charna Halpern - Close taught, mentored and sometimes fought fiercely for honesty and intelligence onstage.

Through Griggs we are privy to the secrets, insights and, oftentimes, despair that accompanied a mind of such magnitude. The critiques of class work, for instance, are priceless for anyone who has taken an improvisational stage class: Take it seriously. Commit. Think of your stage partner and your relationship together, over yourself. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been fortunate to have studied with teachers mentioned in this book, including Jeff Griggs, who is remarkably insightful as a teacher and tremendously talented as a performer. Being taught by a mentored student of Close's gives me a kind of "Closean Pedagogical Contact Buzz" - a metaphor Mr. Close might have enjoyed. Or not.
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When you read interviews with great contemporary comic actors, the name Del Close comes up constantly - along with enigmatic descriptions of his wild personality, drug intake and overall genius. This book, written by one of Del's closest friends near the end of his life, strips away the legend and gives the reader a unique insight into this groundbreaking improv innovator's life and work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lots of connections alluded to in the late night comedy fame generator, the roots of some now interesting Actors... It is not an inspirational piece for me - and Del Close and his friend are excellent examples of people who gave their heart to their passion while in a search for a place to fit with meaning. Something I relate to. I was looking for inspiration humor and fantasy, This was a journal of gritty reality. Well done.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is such a good read, you'll be hard pressed to put it down once you pick it up. The essence of Del is so meticulously laid in front of you, that you truly feel you knew him by the book's end. All of the true life stories presented by Griggs hit home and give insight into the fearless, crazy, and sometimes lonely world of an incredible genius. If you have enjoyed any comedian or comedic actor in the past 35 years, then you must read this book, as Del has been noted by nearly every one as a person of influence and inspiration. Kudos to Griggs for bringing this to us.
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Whether you like improv or are involved in that world, you will like this book. Del Close was clearly a creative genius who mentored comics like John Belushi; and others from Second City in Chicago who went on to become famous. He was also good friends with Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd. This account from Jeff Griggs tells of his later years prior to his demise; but, Griggs keeps good notes and is able to extract from Close some of his philosophy about art, comedy and life. It is a pleasure to read about this fascinating and to some extent-- crazy man-- who is also super funny.
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