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COMEDY REVIEW : Bad Timing Spotlights Kaner's Shortcomings

February 19, 1988|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Sometimes it's not pacing or rhythm but a different kind of timing that can affect a comedian's show.

Take the one performed by Jaz Kaner, who opened a five-night stand Wednesday at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach.

It is not Kaner's fault that he happened to be booked at that club the week after Tom McGillen, who operates in the same peripheral area of stand-up--impressions, rock parodies, souped-up mugging--and whose uneven act was reviewed here last week.

It is unfortunate timing, though.

And it may not even be entirely Kaner's fault that he underscored some of the downsides pointed out about McGillen's act. If his appearance hadn't come right on the heels of McGillen's, Kaner might not have served as sort of a breathing, ex post facto Exhibit A against that brand of comedy.

For instance, it was suggested in the McGillen review that one way to judge impressionists is by whether they bother with a Jack Nicholson impression, which just about anyone with vocal cords and eyebrows can do. Sure enough, Kaner did Nicholson, complete with knit cap and dark glasses.

But wait. When he finished the piece, Kaner said, "I think we ought to take all the comics that do impressions of Jack Nicholson and have one big contest. . . ." That's swell to openly acknowledge that one of your bits is completely generic, but had that realization been made just moments sooner--so as to delete the Nicholson bit altogether--it would have been far more admirable. Once again, timing.

Kaner's too-tardy self-awareness surfaced again later. After he performed several rock parodies as Chinese singer-guitarist "Jimmy Wong"--tiptoeing along the boundary of racially offensive turf and occasionally stumbling in--he donned a pair of Oriental gag glasses. Then he asked: "Is this a little bit racist, or what?"

From there, Kaner launched a brief lampoon of Japanese monster movies and their inherent failure to sync the audio with the visual. A handful of comics explore this premise, but none do so as expertly--or effectively--as McGillen who, again, happened to deliver his piece on the same stage just a few days ago. Odd, but decidedly unfortunate timing.

And where McGillen sidesteps insulting a nationality by focusing on the technical shortcoming of that film genre, Kaner clouded the picture (so to speak) by juxtaposing the movie spoof with the "Jimmy Wong" section. A bad move that could partly be attributed to bad timing.

The fact that Kaner chooses to deliver this very extended segment in the Wong persona is doubly regrettable because it undermines his skill as a quick-on-his-feet, crowd-pleasing entertainer. In addition to running through some prepared rock parodies (representing the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, the Beach Boys, etc.), he not only took requests from the audience but sometimes combined those requests.

When there were simultaneous shouts for the Doors and Led Zeppelin, for instance, he lit into the melody of "Love Me Two Times," over which he sang the lyrics to "Whole Lotta Love." Pretty good (and there were others). Too bad he identified that portion of the program as "Stump the Chinaman."

Pop parodies have a very short shelf life. But dabbling in racial slurs isn't the way to keep them fresh, or to put a different spin on them. In combining elements, however, Kaner is on the right track. Earlier in the set, there were a few inventive musical hybrids: George Benson scatting to "The Odd Couple" theme, the late Bob Marley singing the lyrics to "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme over the reggae lope of "Jamming."

Of course, it is still taking the low(brow) road. On the comedy food chain, the best chunk of impressions or song parodies may be equivalent to the best chunk of prop comedy, but it certainly doesn't equal even an average chunk of verbal/observational stand-up material. In other words, as likable and skillful as Kaner is, don't expect to see him on "Letterman" soon.

Not that he won't be on television. Coincidentally enough, one of his TV appearances--a taped, five-minute segment--happens to air tonight at 9:45 on Showtime. Hmmm. Timing?

Headlining a bill that also includes comic-magician Mack King, Kaner continues through Sunday at the Laff Stop.

JAZ KANER

Tonight, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m.; Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

Laff Stop, 2122 S. E. Bristol St., Newport Beach

$6 to $8

Information: (714) 852-8762

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