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Tonight At Laff Stop : Comic Don Ware Flees Cosby Image

October 07, 1986|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Comedian Don Ware maintains something of a love-hate attitude toward Bill Cosby. He loves Cosby's work and freely acknowledges that the veteran comic has had the biggest influence on him.

But Ware feels the frequent comparisons to Cosby may hamper his career.

"People say we're so similar, and, in some ways, we are," said Ware, who performs tonight at the Laff Stop as part of the club's 10th anniversary show. Ware, along with Mike Finney, David Strassman & Chuck Wood, Dick Hardwick and other comics will help the Laff Stop celebrate at the 8:30 p.m. show.

"Our mannerisms, our attitudes, what I like--we are so from the same mold that it's frightening. People say, 'Oh wow, you walk like Cosby, you look like Cosby, you're the same build as Cosby; there are times you get on stage and you are Cosby.' "

This perceived similarity, Ware said, has been more of a hindrance than a help. For example, Ware explained that "at 'The Tonight Show,' the attitude is 'you're funny, your material is fresh and it's yours. But you remind us a lot of Cosby. . . . If we want Cosby, we'll just go get Cosby.' "

Ware conceded that as a fledgling funnyman, his sets did strongly reflect his admiration for Cosby. "But when I realized it's imperative that I have my own style, I worked to get away from (the similarities)," recalled Ware, who lives in Newport Beach.

There are still traces of Cosby-esque timing and phrasing in Ware's delivery. And both men avoid blue humor. But their acts rarely overlap now.

For one thing, Ware--who's very likable on stage and good with crowds--doesn't do material about kids or families. That could change: Ware and his wife are expecting their first child.

So it's not surprising that Ware's act includes observations on the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy, as well as bits on skiing, the absurdity of the "Lassie" series, visiting the dentist, and the expense involved in going to Disneyland. (A man indignant about having to pay for parking on top of the hefty admission charge says: "We got a problem in the parking lot--I want to see the Mouse!")

Much of the material behind these topics is clever and original, though Ware occasionally veers into generic jokes ("I've never tried cocaine; OK, I smelled it one time") and/or racial humor, poking fun at Oriental drivers or asking Latino audience members if they've won the lottery yet.

Some of Ware's bits are represented on his 1984 album "Trust Me," which he released himself and peddles after shows. (Ware, who lost his mother to a stroke, donates a dollar from each album or cassette sold to the United Stroke Program and the Stroke Group of Houston, organizations that help stroke sufferers and their families.)

Ware plans to record another album within the coming months--one of many projects he says are in the works or under consideration.

Another is a commercial he'll film for Zebco fishing reels. It might seem like an unlikely product to push, but he's an avid fisherman, and his act includes observations on fishing. "I don't care where I go, heaven or hell--whichever's got the best fishing," he cracked during a recent interview.

Ware also said he intends to make a comedy video, assisted by a special-effects whiz who worked on the film "Poltergeist." The video will feature Ware performing part of his act, superimposed over images and special effects illustrating the jokes. Ware hopes segments of the video will be used by nightclubs and, perhaps, video networks like MTV or VH-1.

Clearly, Ware has come a long way since 1974 when he started dabbling in comedy while attending law school in Chicago. He had frequented a comedy club there, and one time a friend dared him to try performing on the club's open-mike night " 'cause I was always the class clown," he said. "So one Sunday, I signed up, went out and told a couple of jokes--and got a laugh. That was it."

He was hooked, though he didn't pursue a professional comedy career full time until he moved to San Francisco in late 1981. In between, Ware--who didn't complete law school--worked for a county legal aid department in Chicago, then handled litigation for Farmer's Insurance in Houston.

He's continued to move around: He relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles before winding up in Newport Beach a little over a year ago. And as a headliner at comedy clubs across the country, he travels extensively--often taking his fully outfitted van, which he uses as a mobile greenroom before shows; sometimes he hitches his boat to the van to get in some fishing during the weeklong engagements.

Ware hopes to reduce his roadwork--and advance his career--by landing some television and film roles. Some people familiar with his act--Ware among them--feel he would be ideal for a guest spot or minor role on "The Cosby Show."

One way or another, it seems, Ware's name will be connected to Cosby's. But according to Ware, one crucial figure has repudiated the supposed similarity: Cosby himself.

They met once in Las Vegas, Ware said. "We talked for a minute or two and he looked at me and said"--Ware broke into a dead-on, grinning Cosby impression--" 'You see, you don't sound like me, you don't look like me--and I hope you die.' "

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