On Thursday nights, Marc Price gets laughs portraying Skippy, the goofy but endearing kid next door on NBC's smash sitcom "Family Ties."
On other nights, Price gets laughs as a stand-up comic, honing his material and delivery at clubs like the Laugh Factory, Comedy Store and the Improv. He's been pursuing the craft for the better part of a decade--quite a while, considering he's just 18.
"I started doing bits with my dad (veteran New York funnyman Al Bernie) on stage when I was 9," he recalled. "I came out and emceed"--affecting a little boy's voice--" 'Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce the star of our show, my dad, Al Bernie.' Then I would trade jokes with him."
This was not, Price emphasized, a case of being dragged into show business by overzealous stage parents. "Oh no, it was my favorite thing in the world ," said Price, who tends to talk in italics. "It wasn't like I was pushed into it; I would always bug him to let me do it. And I would take my little 30-second bit or whatever and just work on it all day."
Just before he turned 13, Price relocated to Los Angeles and split from his father's act to perform solo.
A year later, he did his stand-up routine on "The Merv Griffin Show." Using comedians' parlance for excelling on stage, Price remembered, "I was 14 years old and killing --I killed on ' Merv. ' "
In recounting the evolution of his career, he's careful to acknowledge the training--and breaks--that ultimately led to his role as the Mallory-chasing Skippy Handleman.
A pivotal experience was his stint with a troupe of young performers known as the Too Short for Primetime Players, a kids' version of "Saturday Night Live." The show, performed weekend afternoons, was staged at various nightspots before settling in for a long run at the Roxy. "Greatest experience in the world for me," Price said over a dinner salad, with raisins, at a studio commissary. "And it was during the show that I decided acting, and comedy acting, was going to be my forte, not just stand-up comedy."
He started landing guest spots on such sitcoms as "One Day at a Time," "Archie Bunker's Place" and "Family Ties," then was signed to "Condo" (which he describes as "that series I did with MacLean Stevenson which went off the air real fast").
After "Condo" folded, Price continued on "Family Ties" as a guest performer; he wasn't under contract until last year, the third season of the show (now the nation's second-most-watched program behind "Cosby").
While Skippy hasn't been a primary focus of many "Family Ties" episodes, Price remains philosophical. "I came to terms with what my position is on the show and what they need me for--which is to come on, offer some information, move the show along, do something funny.
"So I just kind of accepted that. And that's when I made the commitment to really start working hard on my stand-up."
In recent months, he has scrapped most of the old act in favor of longer, more sophisticated pieces and collaborated with writers who've worked for comedian Garry Shandling. He'll be offering some of them Friday and Saturday at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard.
The demands of his schedule prevent him from going to school and now that he's 18, he no longer has to receive instruction on the "Family Ties" set. But he says he hopes to attend college--or at least occasional classes--someday.
Meanwhile, one of the few reminders that Price really is a teen-ager surfaces when he describes the frustrations of trying to be an underage nightclub patron: "They won't let me into nightclubs! I don't go to drink; I don't drink. It's to meet girls ! But they don't let me in."
So what do you do?
Leaning forward as if to share a secret, he whispered, "I promised myself I would never do this, but I was in Boston and I had a date. A really pretty date. I was not about to walk away (from the club) depressed, and go get coffee or something. I was going to get into this nightclub. So I pulled the doorman over and said, 'Do you watch television? . . . ' "
He did. Price and his date were admitted. "But I felt a little part of me died when I did that. I don't like to take advantage like that.
"And I won't do it again, though, 'cause I tried it one other time," he confessed with an impish grin. "And the guy said, 'No, I don't watch TV--get out!' "