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Jokes Have Price Tags : San Diegan Learns To Put Price Tags On His Jokes

June 28, 1986|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — "My parents were cruel. I was 5 years old before I found out there was no such thing as Alpo baby food." Rodney Dangerfield said it on his 1982 Grammy Award-winning album, "No Respect." But he didn't write it.

Pat Gorse did.

"Don't you hate it when people overuse the same tired expressions? You always hear them say, 'It was so hot you could fry an egg on the street.' Yeah, and those manhole covers make nifty waffle irons."

George Miller said it on a soon-to-be-aired episode of "Late Night With David Letterman." He didn't write it, though.

Pat Gorse did.

"There's no two ways about Ted: Either you hate Ted Leitner or you are Ted Leitner."

Police Chief Bill Kolender got lots of laughs when he said it at the Make-a-Wish Foundation's charity roast of KFMB-TV sportscaster Ted Leitner last fall. But he didn't think it up himself.

Pat Gorse did.

Gorse, a chunky 30-year-old with an impish grin and a shock of greasy black hair that shoots from his head like the flame of a Roman candle, is one of about a dozen home-bred comics who regularly perform stand-up at San Diego's two comedy clubs, the Comedy Store in La Jolla and the Improv in Pacific Beach.

But Gorse bashfully insists that's just a necessary step toward his real career goal: writing the jokes that make the whole world laugh.

"I never had any intention of being a stand-up comedian," Gorse said. "I've always been self-conscious of the way I look, the way I sound.

"And the only thing that made me go up on stage was that I had this big backlog of jokes I had written and I saw the stage as the best way to sell some of those jokes to other comedians."

That backlog has gotten appreciably smaller since Gorse began writing and performing stand-up seven years ago.

Since then, he has sold more than 200 jokes, deadpans and one-liners--at $50 to $200 a crack, so to speak--to such national comedians as Dangerfield, Miller, Argus Hamilton and Louie Anderson.

He has also sold rib-ticklers to virtually every local comic in town, and for the last three years has been the major contributor to the morning show at progressive album-oriented rock (AOR) station XTRA-FM (91X).

And he recently was the co-winner of a local Emmy for "Technical Difficulties," a show that aired on Cox Cable.

He attributes his success entirely to what he terms "the generosity of nature."

"Comedy writers are born that way; it's not something you can learn," Gorse said. "All my life, I've had this very twisted way of looking at the world, and for the last seven years it's finally begun to pay off."

Gorse, a San Diego native, made his first attempt at comedy writing while working as a sports stringer for a small newspaper in Elgin, Ill., back in 1979.

"I used to send jokes all the time to Rodney Dangerfield, who was the only guy I really wanted to write for," Gorse said. "And I'd always get my material back, unopened, along with a note that said Rodney doesn't accept unsolicited material.

"One day, I heard Rodney would be doing the 'Tonight' show. So I drove down to Los Angeles and a friend who was working for NBC let me go up to the stage and hand him some material in person.

"And I didn't hear anything more from Rodney until I was watching the 'Tonight' show a few months later and heard him do two of my jokes. I was flabbergasted."

Gorse immediately quit his job and bought a one-way bus ticket for Las Vegas, where Dangerfield was appearing at the Riviera.

"I paid to get in, and after I heard him do a couple more of my jokes on stage, I was more determined than ever to meet him," Gorse said.

"As luck would have it, I literally bumped into him after the show in the casino and he recognized me right away. He invited me up to his room, and after we worked on more jokes for three or four hours, he said he wanted to continue this relationship and then handed me $200 in cash.

"But I told him my friends would never believe this, so he took back the cash and wrote out a check. I've kept a photocopy of the check ever since."

Gorse moved back to San Diego and at first honored Dangerfield's request that he write for no one else. But after several months, he said, he wound up with a backlog of jokes Dangerfield didn't want.

So he began doing stand-up himself--both in San Diego and in Los Angeles--in the hopes of attracting more potential buyers from the stable of comedians who regularly play the Southern California comedy circuit.

And his success in doing so has grown ever since, particularly after Comedy Store founder Mitzi Shore brought him up to Los Angeles in 1981 to play the comedy nightclub chain's main club in Hollywood.

"Through that exposure, I've gotten to know just about every comedian in the country," Gorse said. "And most of them come to me regularly for new material.

"That's all I ever wanted to do. Writing comedy is a lot different from doing stand-up: When I write, I can put myself in almost anybody's shoes and, in a way, become almost any comedian in the world."

Gorse said the biggest appeal that comedy writing holds for him is the fact that he is able to write--and sell--many jokes he couldn't perform on stage himself.

Like the routine he just sold to black comic Jimmy Walker in which Walker holds out his hands and tells the audience, "You guys are always saying, 'Send 'em back to Africa.' Well, I'd sort of like to go there myself, so put your money where your mouth is."

"If I'd say that myself, people would call me a bigot," Gorse said. "But when Jimmy says it, it's simply funny."

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