FIREZINE: How did you meet Peter Bergman and become friends?
Bruce Berger: I can't remember specifically how we became acquainted and became friends. Well, it was in high school at Shaker. I certainly did appreciate his creative ability and his sense of humor. It was kind of phenomenal to me that someone that age in high school was doing some of the things that he was doing. He was involved I believe with a theater group there. He and I were in a talent show, I think it was in our Jr. or Sr. year, and he and I did a skit together. It was an interview where I was the straight man, the interviewer and he played a character, a boxer. He had a column in the school newspaper, which was a regular feature and it was kind of a humor column, which I always thought was incredibly creative. For a person who was in high school I thought it was very very sophisticated. "Look and See with Peter B" I think it was called. I even remember one of the lines, and it sounds a little silly right now. One of the little bits in that column was "The bus to Formosa has been cancelled." I always thought that was very funny, and that stuck with me. That's typical Firesign type of humor and this was way back in '57 in high school.
FZ: What was Peter like back then?
BB: Very, very intelligent, and kind of zany. He had some really crazy ideas, just kind of off the wall sort of humor, and ways of behaving. Every once in a while we did these practical jokes around school. One of the things that I always thought was terrific that I think was his idea; they had a mobile x-ray unit that they brought to school that was used to check for TB back in those days. We had to go down there, you know, to get a chest x-ray. So we went to the metal shop and we got these little scrapings from when you turn a piece of metal on a lathe, the metal shavings that had come off, and they were lying on the floor in the metal shop. We got these things and we kind of sprinkled them around in something sticky on our chest. These metal shavings, ha, ha, ha, and then went to get x-rayed. That kind of craziness, you know. The funny thing is, you know, in high school back in those days, I mean that kind of stuff I consider just kind of healthy good humor. Nothing that really hurt anybody.
I think that there was a segment of the class and school actually that, like me, really kind of could see an advanced form of humor. I mean something really different for a high school kid, and appreciated him in that respect, I think, in terms of a class clown. Not in the sense of a guy that would go around in a clown suit and do silly things. I do remember hanging out with him and just kind of doing funny things, and being absolutely kind of enthralled by his brilliance in terms of creative and subtle humor. I remember that he ran for the president of our school. And he was not the kind of guy that would realistically expect to win. Because he was sort of a, I don't know how to put this, he was a well known guy, sort of well known, but known as a kind of subtle class clown, a respected oddball, you know. The guys that win high school presidencies are jocks, or people who are popular with everybody and that kind of thing. And he knew that, but he embarked on this campaign as a kind of a joke. I was his campaign manager. It was a process of dreaming up poster slogans that were kind of put ons, sort of spoofs of national politics, and stuff like that. It was kind of fun that way. Just before everyone went back to their home rooms to vote, there was an assembly for the whole school in the auditorium. So all of the candidates had a chance to get up and give their speeches. Peter got up and he gave this speech that was inflammatory. He started talking about all kinds of things that might happen at the school. That they needed a president that could cope with potentially vast changes that were on the horizon next year. He started talking about that he understands that they were thinking about switching the 9th grade, which was then part of the Jr. high, the school system was reorganizing and they were going to have the 9th graders in the high school now. It was going to be so over crowded that the stairwells in the building were going to have to be made one way. And he's going on and on with this stuff and everybody's looking at each other, going, "whoa, wow." It was so out of character with an innocuous kind of speech for a high school election. It was radical, it was rebel rousing and it was all bullshit really. Ha, ha, ha. And of course they came close to yanking him off there with a hook. And then he was called into the principal's office. And I think I got called into the office, as I was the campaign manager. It was in the nature of "What the hell are you guys doing?" And when everybody was back in their home rooms voting, there came an announcement over the PA system, "Candidate Bergman has been disqualified." Ha, ha, ha.
FZ: Are there any other stories you can tell me about Peter?
BB: There was one other thing about Peter that I can remember pretty well, in the terms of practical jokes around school. There was a section of the high school that was built around this very small interior court yard. I think the building itself was 2 or 3 stories. There was this very little interior court yard that may have had some fountain or grass in the middle, but it was surrounded on all 4 sides by at least 2 stories of classrooms. Nobody ever went there, it wasn't used for breaks or anything. It was just there. Peter and I figured out how to get out there, and thought, "This would be interesting if we could kind of do something down there and get everybody's attention." And so what we did..., and it was when King Saud from Saudi Arabia, was visiting the United States. Back in those days it was pretty exotic. It was big news, because this guy was wearing sheets coming over here and meeting with President Eisenhower. It was all over the newspapers and stuff. So we did this thing where he dressed up, and both of us created these King Saud outfits, totally covered with sheets, the head thing and everything. I don't know if we did fake beards. So we just walked out into the court yard during a class period, and we just started walking around. Just kind of circling around this interior court as if we were conversing with each other. You know, we had these animated...people couldn't hear us necessarily, but it was just the hand gestures and as if we were having a heavy political discussion or something. Just walking around, just walking around, and then eventually you could see how somebody would notice it eventually and others would and more and people would come to the windows, you know. Just stuff like that, you know.
FZ: Did you find that being with Peter inspired you to do things like that, that you normally would never thing of doing?
BB: Oh absolutely, absolutely. It's not my personality at all. Anybody who knows me, will tell you, and by profession, as well as being an attorney I'm an accountant. I'm more the quite accountant type, but I appreciate humor like that. But it's absolutely true, he did inspire me and I loved to do that stuff with him. It was like living a different kind of personality from me. It was fun.
FZ: Did you feel that he was really ahead of his time creating these little happenings and things?
BB: There's no question about it. The guy was. You know how in high school you encounter every once in a while there are these like computer geniuses, math whizzes, and stuff like that. Well this guy was a humorist on a very sophisticated level in high school. It really was phenomenal to me. That's a memory I have that is very vivid, how a guy was that sharp in creativity and humor in high school. Based upon what I remember of him in high school, I kind of felt that this guy is really going to go on and achieve something.