Sometimes comedy can be a funny business--in the wrong way. Or maybe just puzzling. Take Cathy Ladman, who headlined Wednesday at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach.
You probably haven't heard of Ladman--even people who follow comedy pretty closely are a little fuzzy on her--and you haven't seen her on "Late Night With David Letterman."
Yet she's considerably funnier than numerous comics with much higher profiles, and she's definitely stronger than some of the funny folk who pop up regularly on "Letterman."
But her time will come. And when she gets her break, she'll be ready because she has a lot of finely crafted material--and a very relaxed, winning way of delivering it.
Now this curly-haired New Yawker isn't forging a path through uncharted regions of stand-up. She doesn't have the tilted perspective of a Judy Tenuta or a Paula Poundstone.
But that's just it. Her talent lies in how she approaches everyday things, making dry, non-standard observations about fairly standard topics, from overbearing salespeople to overbearing mothers.
Her second bit Wednesday addressed various aspects of wearing makeup, which strikes her as a weird concept: "I'll wake up in the morning, look in the mirror . . . (and say) 'I don't look so good. Maybe if my eyelids were blue, I'd be more attractive.' "
For some of her better material, she needn't look any further than her family. After noting that her father is "the most fastidious, meticulous, anal-retentive person," she revealed the ideal method of antagonizing him: tie him up "and then right in front of him, you refold a road map incorrectly."
Like that Dad-jab, many of her pieces have a slightly biting edge. Sometimes she tiptoes into mean-spirited territory (mentioning her grandmother's birthday was coming up, she asked: "What do you buy for a woman who's 90? Something she can use immediately .") But she's barely there and rarely stays, and often she returns from those forays by pulling the jokes back onto herself.
Usually they're in the form of pointing out the assorted travails she faces regularly, whether they be restroom stalls with broken locks (a centerpiece of her act for some time--with good reason), to coping with single life.
In Ladman's view, one of the ongoing challenges of being single is having to be phony-polite at the end of excruciatingly boring dates: "I'd like to be honest. . . . You are so boring. How do you do it? You're obnoxious--yet nondescript."
She cited other other rigors of dating life: "I once spent five hours in a 31 Flavors with a guy who stuttered; he was trying to order papaya ice cream."
On the other hand, she's no advocate of lust in the fast lane, acknowledging that she's completely put off by the idea of "open marriage": "I get upset when guys I don't know see other women."
The added bonus of Ladman's act: While she mostly traffics in fresh examinations of down-the-line, universal areas, she can peel off from that path for some delightfully bent stuff.
While still on the dating piece, for instance, she pondered the social life of a hamster, then quickly personified a hamster couple: "What do you want to do tonight?
"Ahh, not that wheel again."
You don't have to be a hamster to find her pretty sharp.
Headlining a bill that includes Willie Randolph, Ladman continues at the Laff Stop through Sunday.
The Laff Stop is at 2122 S.E. Bristol St., Newport Beach. Show times: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 8, 10 and 1:45 p.m. Saturday; 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $6-8. Information: (714) 852-8762.