The Connection Between Entrenching Tools and Groats: The Firesign Theatre’s Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers

Published on July 30th, 2009 in: Comedy, Issues, New Old Stock |

By Matt Keeley

“Erzatz Brothers Coffee – The REAL One! Look for the can on the plain brown can.”

The Firesign Theatre members refer to themselves as a “theatre of the mind,” and their bizarre pastiche of pop culture references is probably not for everyone. Now while I’m not the biggest Firesign Theatre fan, I do dig their stuff. Some of the drug humor is a little easy (and honestly, drug humor’s a bit of an uphill battle with me, anyway), but it’s a small part of the records, providing an easy handle to get people to listen. Everything else they do is so complex, it’d be a tragedy to write them off just because they like to mention weed occasionally. The great thing about Firesign Theatre is how their records couldn’t be made in any other medium, in particular my favorite: Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers.

firesign theatre don’t crush

The Firesigns draw on their background doing live radio to make their albums an immersive experience, and of these, Dwarf is probably the best. Like the others, Dwarf is a contained narrative—though the perspective shifts that make it incredibly interesting to the ear are much more pronounced than in their other albums. If you’re not paying attention, you might get the more obvious jokes, but you’ll be lost in the story. Hell, even if you are paying attention, you’ll be lost in the story. But that’s part of the idea.

Right from the beginning, it’s clear that this album isn’t going to be a normal comedy troupe album, and here’s where Firesign’s talent in subtle, clever world-building shows up. First, there is George Leroy Tirebiter, a man named after a dog, who lives in Sector R. Apparently it’s after curfew. Not a big deal is made of this—it’s more-or-less a throwaway line, like the entertainment news show hosts doing celebrity birthdays:

“‘And who was born today?”
“Nobody, Hugh.”
“I meant in history, before they changed the water.”

This line really illustrates the world the album takes place in and it’s a hint that it is a pretty nightmarish world, after all. . . even more so than the fictional worlds the other Firesign recordings create and inhabit.

George is a college student (at this point, anyway; the Firesigns also like to bend time and space) who happens to not only be watching late-night TV. . . but also to BE on just about all of the programs (“I’ve been up all night, watching myself on the teevee!”).

He’s on a game show (a This Is Your Life program), an advertisement for his campaign for office (or, perhaps, his own father’s campaign for dog killer), and two different old movies where he’s a character: one where he’s a soldier in a war movie and another where he’s an all-American high school student named “Porgie Tirebiter,” played by Dave Casman (which amusingly enough, is Tirebiter’s stage name).

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