There Are Two Dueling Del Close Biopics in Development

There’s been a lot of hubbub in the press lately about two competing Steve Jobs biopics, but now, The Chicago Tribune reports that there are two dueling movies based on the life of Del Close, the father of modern improvisational comedy. Close, amongst other things, trained dozens of well-known comedians like Bill Murray, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Poehler at Chicago’s Second City and ImprovOlympic theaters from the early ’70s up until his death in 1999. Here’s the info on the two similar movies, one called Guru from the Second City camp and another called Del from the ImprovOlympic camp:

Guru – Produced by Second City co-owner/CEO Andrew Alexander, Guru is based on the book Guru: My Days with Del Close by Jeff Griggs, who spent a year and a half as Close’s assistant/student during the end of his life. Griggs wrote the original script, but the latest draft is by Nick Torokvei, son of Second City alum Peter “P.J.” Torokvei. Harold Ramis was attached to direct back in 2006 and he said that Bill Murray was “perfect” to play Close, but things never materialized and Ramis left the project. Now, fellow Close student Betty Thomas, who helmed Howard Stern’s Private Parts and most recently, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeekquel, is onboard to direct. Guru producer James Stern (Looper) told the Tribune, “Del changed the face of comedy more than any person alive. Del was where the river started. Del’s story is largely unknown to the general public, and it would be great to change that.”

Del – Written by Del Close’s ImprovOlympic co-founder Charna Halpern, who spent two decades working with him, and SNL writer Michael McCarthy, Del is iO’s version of a Del Close movie. Halpern had Mike Myers, another Close student, interested in playing Del Close a few years ago, but it never happened. Halpern said to the Tribune, “My movie is more in depth about Del and the things that we’ve done [Jeff Griggs] didn’t know the young, vibrant Del. It frustrates me. I told Jeff all these stories, and he mixed them up, so they’re not all true … I want the real story told, the story of someone who knew the man for 19 years.”

Neither project has received a greenlight yet, but both scripts are written and in development. Griggs explained to the Tribune, “Both (projects are) about this phenomenally important guy for comedy and Chicago theater, and we want both of them to be made. There’s no rivalry.” It seems unlikely that both movies would be greenlit, so whichever one attaches a big name actor and secures funding first looks like it’ll be the one that gets made, frustrating folks in the other camp. Beloved improviser and another Close disciple in Chicago, David Pasquesi, sums it up best with something a friend told him: “The problem is there are six people who are interested in the story about Del, and five of them will tell you how you did it wrong. He’s not known, so the story itself is a rough sell.”

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