One can't help being a little leery of performers who adopt a showbiz moniker that's affected or corny, or that seems to promise too much. But Bob Zany couldn't have selected a more appropriate pseudo-surname. His performance Wednesday at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach observed the tenets of truth-in-advertising.
It was plenty zany.
If you demand stand-up with probing, sociopolitical relevance, go rent "Lenny" or something. Bob Zany aspires to something altogether different--and nothing to be denigrated as small achievement: He wants you to laugh, to have fun, and to walk out feeling great. As long as you don't come in with a different agenda, he succeeds famously.
His looks are delightfully goofy: His squinty eyes and rubbery face can make you smile before he even says a word. He's a man of ample girth, which ordinarily wouldn't be relevant but in this case somehow underscores his loopy countenance--and he kids about his weight. (He has one of the best throwaway fat jokes in the business: "When I dance, the band skips.")
He's also a naturally funny guy, a distinction at a time when stand-up is cluttered with people who aren't. And while he has more than enough witty, whimsical material to sidestep the often-dreaded "prop comic" tag, he does devote part of his act to working with props, toys and other sources of visual humor.
Few of his jokes are tied together. He's not big on developing themes. He simply reaches into a bottomless grab bag of jokes. It's kind of like watching Magic Johnson lead a fast break--so smooth and effortless that it would be easy to overlook just how much talent and skill is behind the process.
Similarly, Zany is so engaging and easygoing--there's not much edge or aggressiveness in his persona--that you might not immediately notice that he's completely in control on stage. But it was most apparent in his exchanges with members of the crowd--both those he sought and, especially, those he didn't.
Early in the 42-minute set, someone near the front row mumbled something. "I know how tough it is to be a heckler," Zany replied, "and I don't want to throw off your timing." The line elicited applause and, more importantly, the loudmouth wasn't heard from again.
Probably the best, most amusing example of Zany's on-stage control surfaced toward the show's end when a man got up, presumably to head to the head. Zany went after him, pleading: "Come back, man. I swear I'll do funnier things. If you leave now, it's gonna make me look bad. Come back."
The man did.
And with good reason. Zany has lots of strong jokes. He told of being pulled over by a cop, who asked Zany, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"
Zany: " 'Cause you're lonely and never been with a fat man?"
And: "I have a truck. I'm not macho about it. I don't have a rifle rack on the back--I have a spice rack."
At one point, he ventured into the crowd to talk to someone, and as he navigated his way back to the stage, he spotted a guy wearing thongs.
He snatched one off the guy's foot, exclaiming "Beachcombers! Cool! Listen, I got some pet rocks and some eight-tracks I'm trying to get rid of."
Then, seeing a waitress delivering a Corona to a nearby patron, he said "Oh, a Corona with a lime in it. Pretty trendy. I'll get you some Angel Flight pants in a little bit."
There was some nifty stuff that he pulled from his suitcase full of props--which he called "the new Orson Welles lunch pail"--including an object representing "a day at Disneyland," featuring a tube leading from a wallet into Mickey Mouse's mouth.
He closed with an anecdote about fooling around on a job application: "Under ' are you hard of hearing, ' I wrote 'What?'. . . Under ' date ,' I put 'small, edible fruit.' Under ' print name ,' I put ' n - a - m - e '. . . . (Under) ' are you an American citizen, ' I put 'si.' "
The final tag: "So I got the job. I'm a pilot for Eastern."
In a word, Zany.
Headlining a bill that also includes Larry Skinner, Bob Zany continues at the Laff Stop through Sunday.
The Laff Stop is at 2122 S.E. Bristol, Newport Beach. Show times: 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m. Saturday; 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $6 to $9. Information: (714) 852-8762.