Al Lubel is probably familiar to fans of "Star Search," that spangly, rah-rah update of amateur hour talent shows that were so big in the '50s. Viewers have seen the former Newport Beach comic win just about every one of its comedy competitions the past few months, as he makes his way toward television celebrity and the $100,000 payoff.
Actually, Lubel, 31, who now lives in Los Angeles, has already captured the best-comedian title and the cash, but few people know about it. The recently taped episode won't be televised by CBS until Feb. 20, and those associated with the program are keeping quiet.
Even Lubel, who says he promised "Star Search" that he wouldn't publicize his victory until after the show is aired, won't be specific. "It's an ethical thing. They want to keep the suspense up, I guess, until then, and I told them I'd go along."
But Lubel, a New York native who practiced law for three years before focusing on comedy full time, is willing to talk about his earlier "Star Search" experiences and a career that has been up, down and all around, from Orange County to Miami.
The solid, dark-haired comic may be remembered by locals for his regular master of ceremonies work at Newport Beach's Laff Stop a few years ago. Before that, he appeared at various clubs and bars in the area--admittedly usually bombing--during amateur nights, when all a would-be performer needed to get the microphone was guts and a few minutes of material, no matter how bad.
"Yeah, I was bombing regularly in those days. It was kind of a shock," Lubel said. "But it all makes sense to me now. I really didn't have much of an act; you get your act together as you go along. . . . You have to hone your talents, and my stuff has really improved."
The process sometimes can be literally painful. Lubel remembered one bit he performed at a Newport Beach club where a woman, apparently disturbed by his impersonation of Richard Simmons singing "New York, New York," belted him.
"That was wild. It was a terrible crowd, and I was having a terrible time. . . . I guess I made the mistake (of going into the audience to sing) because she didn't like it at all. She just hit me."
It was one of the times Lubel wondered if his mother was right when she told him to stick with his law career. At his family's urging, Lubel earned a law degree from the University of Miami in 1981, then came to California where, he said, he passed the bar exam on his first try after six months of study.
He worked on both criminal and civil cases but became disenchanted early on as he discovered it was not at all like Perry Mason: "It was more like business instead of performing. It wasn't like the drama of the courtroom that you think it is. I might have been fine if someone else would have done the case research, and I could have had a script to present."
As his interest in law lagged, his commitment to comedy grew. And despite the often-fitful night and weekend gigs in Orange County and the Los Angeles area, Lubel eventually decided to put all his efforts into humor.
A comedian who finds laughs in the simple, day-to-day events of his own life and short law career, Lubel decided that the best way to further his talents was on the road. He found himself taking a well-traveled tour of dozens of clubs on both coasts.
His break came last year, when he auditioned with 20 other comics at the Improvisation in Los Angeles for a spot on "Star Search." He said he believes that his successive wins against other new comics gained him enough exposure to have agents and club managers pay attention.
Even with the benefits, Lubel acknowledged that "Star Search" had its disconcerting moments.
The pressure each week to win was often difficult to handle. "It's definitely high stress, all that comes with winning and losing," Lubel said. "And just the physical things build up the stress. You have to get there three hours before taping to get your makeup and get your stage blocking. It all adds up."
Then there's the show's format, which provides each comic with no more than 2 1/2 minutes to sway the judges.
"That's really not much time to do stuff and build momentum, and the crowd is not always in a comedy frame of mind because they've seen all these other (singing, dancing, music combo) acts. It's always tough to follow all those.
"It's probably the toughest show I'll ever do because of those things. Also, putting yourself in a position of being scored is strange . . . for me at least. The exposure makes it all worth it."