SXSW 2020 Film Review: FOR MADMEN ONLY

FOR MADMEN ONLY is a documentary about the comedic legend, Del Close, that shows his journey of creating his autobiography for D.C. Comics titled “Wasteland.” Del Close co-authored the graphic horror anthology with John Ostrander and one story in almost every issue of Wasteland was an embellished portrayal taken from the comedian’s intriguing life. The 90-minute documentary directed by Heather Ross was slated to have its world premiere during the now canceled South By Southwest (SXSW) 2020 Film Festival as part of the Documentary Feature Competition category.

The below review may have a few spoilers of the film so keep that in mind if you plan to watch it. The film is a colorful blend of D.C. Comics artistry and an array of interesting stories from Del Close life starting from when he was a child when he ran away from home at the age of 17 to work in a traveling side show.

It follows his journey to Chicago in the early 60’s to perform and direct at Second City but was subsequently fired due to substance abuse. After that, he relocated to San Francisco where he was the house director of improv ensemble “The Committee” where he developed and taught his techniques of long-form improvisation known as “Herald.” Unfortunately, substance abuse continued to plague him along will mental illness while he was in San Francisco as well.

In the early 70’s Del, returned to Chicago and to Second City where he taught and directed famous comedians like John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy and many more from that generation. He also later directed and performed for Second City’s troupe in Toronto. In the mids 1980s and 1990s continued to teach improv by collaborating with Charna Halpern at Yes And Productions and the ImprovOlympic Theater with Compass Players producer, David Shepherd.

Throughout the film it was obvious that Del Close taught so many great actors and comedians, yet he never got his big break or the financial success that his former students now had.

Students of Del Close Include:

  • Dan Aykroyd
  • Ike Barinholtz
  • James Belushi
  • John Belushi
  • Matt Besser
  • Stephen Burrows
  • Heather Anne Campbell
  • John Candy
  • Stephen Colbert
  • Andy Dick
  • Brian Doyle-Murray
  • Rachel Dratch
  • Ali Farahnakian
  • Chris Farley
  • Jon Favreau
  • Tina Fey
  • Neil Flynn
  • Aaron Freeman
  • Pete Gardner
  • Jon Glaser
  • Wavy Gravy
  • TJ Jagodowski
  • Jay Chandrasekhar
  • Tim Kazurinsky
  • David Koechner
  • Shelley Long
  • Adam McKay
  • Tim Meadows
  • Susan Messing
  • Jerry Minor
  • Bill Murray
  • Joel Murray
  • Mike Myers
  • Joey Novick
  • Bob Odenkirk
  • Tim O’Malley
  • David Pasquesi
  • Amy Poehler
  • Gilda Radner
  • Harold Ramis
  • Ian Roberts
  • Andy Richter
  • Mitch Rouse
  • Horatio Sanz
  • Amy Sedaris
  • Brian Stack
  • Eric Stonestreet
  • Miles Stroth
  • Dave Thomas
  • Vince Vaughn
  • Matt Walsh
  • Stephnie Weir
  • George Wendt

Within the film, you get to hear some of the most interesting stories of Del’s life that he included within Wasteland from drug use to witchcraft. One story that stuck out more than some of them from the documentary was about his encounter with writer L. Ron Hubbard, author of horror and science fiction and founder of Scientology. Apparently, Hubbard was complaining about how much he pays in taxes and Del Close recommends opening a church.

Towards the end of the documentary, you find out Close was hospitalized dying with emphysema in 1999 but not before his former student and friend Bill Murray threw him a party at the hospital. The constant teach delivered his final speech to his students on March 3, 1999 and passed on March 4th.

FOR MADMEN ONLY was a fascinating documentary about an established actor and comedian with an off-beat sense of humor, a life with ups and downs and a man’s love of improv. To learn more about the movie please visit:


Source:, SXSW, IMDb