His Shadow Is A Substantial Thing: Reflections on the Life and Impact of Del Close

del close history the harold the quest: improvisation for transformation Aug 17, 2022

A recent Google search returned over 188,000 hits for Del Close (1934-1999).* There is no shortage of writing about Close, his life, his work, and its lasting impact.  That impact is artfully described by Rick Kogan, in his lovely tribute, “Del Close’s Lasting Impact on iO, and the Rest of Us

“His shadow is a substantial thing, shading the increasingly active and ever-expanding Chicago comedy world in the same way that Louis Sullivan still influences young architects, Muddy Waters impacts bluesmen or Nelson Algren whispers to writers.”

Kogan’s reminiscences are notable, both because of his long history with Close and also because he was never one of his students. Kogan first met Close in the 1970s when Kogan was writing on comedy, theater and nightlife for the Chicago Sun Times and Close was employed as a director at Second City.

“We knew each other a bit and had for a few years. Most of what we talked about is lost. But he did say this, “Chicago is the center of everything that matters, and there will be pain and trouble for you but if you ever leave here that would be a mistake that could destroy you.” I remember that because I wrote it down when I got home and kept it. Like many things Del said to me over the years, I didn’t fully understand its meaning, but there was weight to it — that I knew, and now, many years later, it makes a great deal more sense than it did when he said it. I am still here.”

He nicely summarizes Close’s impact on American improv comedy and provides a series of snapshots of his interactions with Close over the years, of particular interest his description of seeing a Harold for the first time in 1985.

“This was a terribly precarious game, a hit and miss affair. Yet, on (this night), the hits far outnumbered the errors and, indeed, much of the work was stingingly fresh and funny. No two ‘Harolds’ ever will be the same. Teams will change, the games will alter. And therein lies one reason why this is and will remain among the most exciting, adventurous games in town.”

It is doubtful that anyone there at the time knew that, this “precarious game”, the Harold, would go on to have the global adventures that it has had.  The “most exciting, adventurous” game is now performed in towns and cities across the globe.

*When I first wrote this post in 2015 that was the number of Google hits, when I re-posted it today, on August 17, 2022, that number had mushroomed to 4,680,000,000.


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