Published May 02, 2016In the opening moments of Thank You Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon, the titular founding father of improvisation compares the art to the ephemeral nature of fireworks, which seems about as good as any way to describe the form. Part biography of Close and part study of how his disciples continue to honour him, the documentary is a loving and funny tribute to the man who shaped the bright future of improv and moulded so many of the comedic minds that have dominated film and television for decades now.
Close made his mark initially in the Chicago comedy scene, where he honed a style of long-form improvisation that was rooted in listening to and connecting with your partners, rather than always trying to score a big laugh. He worked with legendary performers like Bill Murray and John Candy within the revered institution of Second City and, despite not being all that recognized in the mainstream, laid the groundwork for modern-day improv haven Upright Citizens Brigade.
But the film doesn't attempt to paint Close as any perfect teacher, bringing to light Close's well-documented struggles with substance abuse as well as his frequent clashes with authority figures, who believed that improvisation was merely a writing tool and not an artform unto itself. Thank You Del also gives voice to the surviving members of his former group The Committee, who wonder if perhaps Close has been given more of the credit for his contributions than perhaps he deserves.
A large chunk of the film is devoted to the origins of the Del Close Marathon, created by members of the Upright Citizens Brigade to honour his legacy and provide other improv enthusiasts with a venue for their talents. At the 2013 incarnation of the festival, we see experts like Amy Poehler, Matt Besser and a who's who of faces that pop up on all your favourite comedy shows do their thing, but the heart of this section comes from following the progress of an inexperienced troupe called Hi, Let's Be Friends, from Missouri, as they prepare for performances at the festival. Though their arc may be somewhat predictable, it's still proves to be a rewarding entry-point into the overwhelming world of improv.
While there's a fair share of the usual talking heads from the founding members of Upright Citizens Brigade and other comedy luminaries speaking reverentially about Close, there's also plenty of candid archival footage that helps explain his genius. From his introspective and lyrical improvised monologues to candid moments at a party that was held for Close while he was on his deathbed, we're given a chance to feel the full impact of a man who exploded onto the scene like a firework himself, shining long enough for others to take notice and leaving abruptly. (Independent)