Planet Proctor: Friends Remember Phil Austin (Part 1)

By on August 5, 2015

This is part 1 of 2 of Phil Proctor’s ninth issue of “Planet Proctor.” This month, he has enlisted the help of fellow writers and comedians to remember his best friend and colleague Phil Austin.

As I prepare to turn 75 on July 28, I mourn my longtime partner and talented brother, Philip Baine Austin, more than ever: Melinda and I – the Ginbags, Fizz and Ginny – were planning to celebrate with him and Oona, his beloved wife of 44 years, at the McCocktails’ compound on Fox Island.  He is irreplaceable; but instead of eulogizing him only in my own words, I want to share with you a few of the many amazing tributes that came to my attention soon after his passing. I hope the plaudits that follow will illuminate some of his attainments in a life well lived and well realized, and one that leaves us with a rich comic heritage for all eternity.We raise our glasses to you, Edward Everett McCocktail, and to your beautiful, funny widow, Edna. Down the hatch!

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Fred and Phil

Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr., the author of Backwards Into the Future, a 2006 book about us, said:

Phil Austin’s goal was to fool people into laughing by looking at themselves and their beliefs and shaking out the truth. What was silly, profoundly humorous and surreal about the America of the ‘60s and ‘70s is now being bought and sold as a normal exchange in our violated temples and becoming more and more so every day.

Coming from a stint in the psychological warfare unit in the US Army and the theatrical stage, Austin was able to use his training and meticulous craftsmanship to convincingly deliver the words and the juxtaposition of themes and images to present them in a multi-level of meanings that your brain could digest all at once, partially or not, and still be funny.

I hear his voice mainly in modern commercials that use humor to sell. I hear it so much that at times the pitches are almost word-for-word reproductions of the satirically cynical “fake commercials” Austin and his colleagues were so fond of delivering in such realistic form and oh so tempting to drop in regular programming for a few laughs. I just had to do it all the time in my years behind the radio microphone.

I hear it in cartoon shows like Sponge Bob; I hear in The Onion; I hear it in the mouths of disc jockeys; in the legions of comedians; media executives, all raised and hard-wired on the stuff; in the conversations of strangers that speak them in rote and reference and recognition. You’re one of them and they’re one of us… everywhere that surreality bumps up against reality to sell ideas and even somehow in the words of Rush Limbaugh and President Obama. I hear it just about every place; but especially on Fox News because Phil Austin’s goal was to fool people into laughing by looking at themselves and shaking out the truth.

I knew Phil personally and worked directly with him on various projects over the years. He always knew exactly what he wanted, how it was to be presented, how to achieve it, and how to have fun and make a living from it at the same time. He had a completely analytical mind bordering on genius, if not crossing the line from time to time.

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When I interviewed Phil for publication or on a live broadcast, he came across as an incredibly warm human being, brutally honest and extremely protective of his own work and the Firesign Theatre’s. Phil encouraged me greatly in my writing in a way that was not goal-oriented or patronizing. But get on his bad side… look out brother…when that door opened, the cat runs out and never comes back.

Phil Austin once told me, “As long as I’m living and breathing there will always be a Firesign Theatre.” The Library of Congress has made sure of that, preserving their recordings for all time and people and generations to come.

“People with a sense of humor tend to be less egocentric and more realistic in their view of the world and more humble in moments of success and less defeated in times of travail.” ~ Bob Newhart

About Phil Proctor

Phil was born of Amish/Irish ancestry in Goshen, Indiana and his God-given musical and linguistic talents (he speaks 7 languages) have taken him from Broadway, where he appeared in The Sound of Music and A Time for Singing, and Off-Broadway and L.A. in The Amorous Flea, across the U.S. and Canada, to Europe, and even to the former Soviet Union with the legendary Yale Russian Chorus. He started as a child actor on live television in New York and went on to win a Theatre World award, be cited as Best Actor by the LA Free Press for John Guare’s Muzeeka at the Mark Taper Forum, receive 3 Grammy nominations with The Firesign Theatre and sharing 3 daytime Emmies for voicing Howard DeVille on Rugrats, with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as receiving several Academy Awards for his participation in the animé Spirited Away as well as many Disney and Pixar movies. Besides being the announcer on the reality show Big Brother for 3 seasons, he’s supplied voices for countless commercials, interactive games, including the evil Dr. Vidic in Assassin’s Creed, and audio books such as L. Ron Hubbard’s Golden Age of Pulp Fiction series for Galaxy Press. You can also hear him regularly as Detective Polehaus on the long-running radio show Adventures in Odyssey. He is most widely recognized as the drunken French Monkey in Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle series, Seahorse Bob in Finding Nemo, Charlie in Monsters, Inc., and you’ll hear him next in Pixar’s Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. With the Firesign Theatre 4-man group -- listed as one of the “Thirty Greatest Acts of All Time” by Entertainment Magazine -- he’s appeared for almost a half-a-century on LPs, CDs, DVDs and on stage, TV and screen in Zachariah, God’s Clowns, Everything You Know is Wrong, Hot Shorts, The Madhouse of Dr. Fear with Don Adams, and as Proctor & Bergman in their overdubbed Republic cliffhanger cult hit, J-Men Forever. This year, he expects to launch his memoir, Where’s My Fortune Cookie, co-authored by Brad Schreiber, as he approaches his 65th year in Show Business. Stay tuned: http://planetproctor.com