Meeting the Guru of Longform Improv in ‘The Delmonic Interviews’
It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?
Near the beginning of The Delmonic Interviews, improv legend Del Close is described as “the most famous person in comedy that nobody knows.” Having just spent the best part of my weekend at a 56-hour improv marathon dedicated to him, that description doesn’t quite fit anymore.
But it was true when the film was made in 2002. Three years after Close’s death, Cesar Jaime and Jeff Pacocha put together the documentary as a tribute to the improv teacher that had influenced so many. As such, it works more as a memorial service than a documentary.
In this instance, that’s for the best. The film is what it is: a tribute to a man that so many people respected. It’s unlikely that anyone not interested in long-form improvisation would find it fascinating, but it’s even more unlikely they’d ever stumble across it. It’s shown occasionally at Chicago’s iO theatre for improv students, and only screened at festivals and theatres a few times a year (always for free).
To the film’s credit, it manages to be a tribute that doesn’t try to whitewash Close’s memory. No one is afraid to admit that he was intimidating, cranky, unpredictable, tactless, and occasionally brutal. They tell their tales of working with him like war stories.
A large portion of the documentary is dedicated to Close’s final days. The day before he died, he held a “death party” with his friends and students, and there’s footage of Close drinking martinis in his hospital bed. During the annual Press Conference at the Del Close Marathon, Matt Besser talked about Close’s advice that day to “spread the love of improvisation.”
While most of the film is talking head interviews, there are a few clips of Close’s work. The greatest, at the end, is a video of Close doing an invocation of himself. It’s a beautiful, haunting scene, both heartbreaking and inspiring. He describes himself as “the door through which you will pass but he may not. But he understands.”
From that scene, the descriptions of his greatness are justified; it’s clear why he’s commonly referred to as a guru. The Delmonic Interviews traditionally kicks off the Del Close Marathon, and with good reason. Close was the messenger, the forefather of everyone who passes through that festival, and through them his message is spread.
And so, in conclusion…
Is it interesting? For students (and dedicated fans) of improv, absolutely.
What does it have to say about comedy? Close’s influence on the comedy world is amazing, and grows every year. It’s incredible that one person, even a complicated genius like him, has had such an impact.
Is it funny? No, nor is it trying to be. There are a couple minutes of everyone doing Del Close impressions that made me giggle, and there’s a laugh in the closing credits that I won’t spoil.
Can I stream it on Netflix? Not even close, and tracking it down can be tricky. Director Cesar Jaime told me that they’re talked about posting the film online for brief periods to have “online screenings”, and that they’re open to suggestions. Feel free to tweet him.
Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. She saw 22 hours of improv this weekend, and it was a beautiful blur.