This week's lineup at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach featuring Fred Greenlee and Fred Wolf lends credence to the old saying that two Freds are better than one.
Opening a five-night stand Wednesday, headliner Greenlee beat a determined path away from anything remotely resembling generic topics (Iranian 7-Eleven clerks, fast food operations and employees, women going to the restroom in groups, et al ).
Greenlee prefers to stake out less explored and more cerebral regions of stand-up territory. But he does so without becoming either too esoteric or too self-congratulatory about the obvious intellectual edge that informs his vision.
For example, there aren't exactly hundreds of comics with pieces on suicide or capital punishment; early in his set, Greenlee addressed both subjects and, adopting a blustery voice, bridged them with this segue: "Attempting suicide is against the law and is punishable by life in the electric chair."
At other times his material wasn't grounded in any great philosophical or legal issue but still reflected sophisticated thinking and a warm regard for the absurd. In the midst of a piece on dreaming, he complained: "The night before last I slept for 10 hours and dreamt I couldn't get to sleep--what a waste of time that was."
Or, occasionally, this brainy absurdism surfaced in throwaway lines: While ticking off a Carlin-esque laundry list of things never to do, he advised "never look too long at something you find in a hot dog."
Not a particularly funny or inventive line. But for literate audience members paying close attention, it probably rose a level or three when he quietly tagged it with "Upton Sinclair wrote that joke."
Greenlee--whose TV credits include acting roles, as well as an appearance this year on "The Tonight Show"--fastened together these bits and lines by projecting a bemused, vaguely neurotic persona; someone slightly disconnected from the world, but not so far removed that he can't comment insightfully on the injustices and absurdities that "normal" people aren't tuned-in enough to see. Greenlee is the classic outsider looking in, with a slight twist and high IQ.
The other Fred playing the Laff Stop this week--Fred Wolf--likewise displays a flair for articulating improbabilities and inconsistencies that haven't been over-observed.
He allowed that he's a little puzzled, for instance, by high school guidance counselors: "They tell you what to do when you graduate, help plan your career, and they make--what?--8,000 bucks a year?"
Wolf has a conversational, slightly self-mocking delivery that is engaging and quickly inclines a crowd to pull for him. Ironically, though, this casual manner can cost him laughs.
That is, in longer spots, such as Wednesday's 35-minute set, he sometimes seems less committed to his material and therefore just glides over some of it. Lines--or even bits--that should get laughs don't, primarily because he undersells them.
Not that Wolf is always too low-key or plays it too safe. In one risky bit, he uses a speaker phone to call a local pizza parlor and ask about having a pizza delivered. Once Wolf gets the estimate of how long the delivery will take (he was quoted 30 minutes Wednesday), he then plays a sound-effects tape that suggests he's a nut who has barricaded himself into a house being swarmed by police.
Despite the sirens and other sounds of a hostage situation and "official" police demands that he surrender (and Wolf's reply: "I will in 30 minutes!"), the pizza person cheerfully asked, "What is your address?" Now that's comedy--both live and Memorex.
The Greenlee-Wolf double Fredder continues at the Laff Stop through Sunday.