|Who Am Us, Anyway?
[ Phil Austin passed away on Thursday June 18, 2015 at his home on Fox Island, Washington, from multiple cancers. At his request, no memorial service is planned. ]
The official lead guitarist of the Firesign Theatre, Phil Austin was born in 1941 in Denver Colorado. He grew up in Fresno, California, a town legendary for its comedy roots, boasting such towering comedic figures as Sam Penkinpah and Ross Bagdasarian. Keenly aware of the comedy crucible that was Fresno, he left the area as soon as he possibly could, taking up swimming and parlaying his talent into a scholarship to Bowdoin college in Brunswick, Maine - the most distant point in the continental United States from Fresno.
Although he attended Bowdoin, Fresno State and UCLA, he staunchly refused to be awarded a diploma - no matter how indifferent these institutions were to thrust one upon him. In the early 1960's he found himself in Los Angeles, working as part of the first crop of apprentices at the Center Theatre Group. Concurrently, he held down a job as director of drama and literature at KPFK radio in Los Angeles. It was at this station that he met the three men who would change his life, and incidentally, he also met David Ossman, Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman there. Together, they would form the Firesign Theatre.
The Firesign Theatre is probably best described, if it can be described at all, as an audio-based production group specializing in a unique, multi-media form of non-linear comedy. The troupe has undertaken filmmaking, book writing, television, radio and stage productions. Some twenty-plus record albums, three films, three television specials, two books and innumerable radio programs have been the result.
In the group, Austin is probably best known for his portrayal of the man who reads his name on the glass of his office door: "REGNAD KCIN." The rest of us know him as Nick Danger, a bizarre detective and one of Firesign's most enduring creations. Austin is the occasional voice of television commercials, ranging from Pizza (Pizza Hut) to Autos (Nissan) to banks, shoes and computers (Wachovia, Nike and Apple respectively). His lovely wife, Oona, is a leading food stylist for television, somehow making the likes of Taco Bell and Kellogg's cereals look appetizing.
In the early 1990s Austin wrote "The Dead Sell Out", a movie screenplay for Edward Pressman films, with the actual members of the Grateful Dead serving as consultants on the project. In this same era, he worked for Lormar Telepictures where he developed television comedies for Ringo Starr and others. The Nick Danger character resurfaces in an adventure called "Down Under Danger," broadcast on Public Radio. A collection of his short stories, "Tales of the Old Detective and Other big Fat Lies," was published in 1995. The latter did not feature, but was informed by, his experience as a fictional detective with the Firesign Theatre.
Phil Austin's Blog Of The Unknown: https://philaustinblogofunknown.wordpress.com/
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