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Building a New Life Based on Laughs : Stage: A Comedy Nite club benefit for the American Heart Assn. will feature two-time All Pro place kicker Benny Ricardo.


Heard the one about the football star who became a comedian?

"Dick Butkus was such a cheap-shot artist that if he were driving a cab in New York and Ray Charles got in the back, he'd just rev the engine for 15 minutes and charge the man full fare."

So goes a joke by Benny Ricardo, a two-time All Pro place kicker who's trying to make his mark in the world of stand-up comedy.

For Ricardo--who will host a benefit for the American Heart Assn. Tuesday at the Comedy Nite club in Oceanside--the transition from football to comedy was a natural. He was always the smallest man on the team, and laughter was one of his survival skills.

After all, stand-up is the loneliest and riskiest profession in show business. Just like place kicking.

"One week you kick the winning field goal and they give you a car," Ricardo said. "The next week you miss and they give you directions on how to drive the car out of town."

The 35-year-old Escondido resident didn't miss many as a kicker for San Diego State University, the Detroit Lions, the New Orleans Saints, the Minnesota Vikings and the San Diego Chargers. Now he's hoping his jokes will score big and lead him to a career in television and acting.

Ricardo's first steps into comedy were tentative. His wife, Karen, didn't exactly go along with the idea of her husband standing on stage telling jokes. But Ricardo felt the thrill and wouldn't let go.

"Comedy is a high. It's a drug to be up on stage and control people's emotions, to make them laugh or make them mad," he said. "Comedy is a great preparation because, if you can do stand-up, you can do anything."

Now that Ricardo has had some success with his act--negotiations have begun with companies such as Miller Brewing, which is interested in using him in commercials--his wife is warming up to the idea of her husband as a comedian.

Regular gigs such as hosting the no-smoking Tuesdays at Comedy Nite and the club's Friday night TV show, as well as a stint as part of the KGMG (1320 AM) morning drive team The Rude Boys, are among the steps Ricardo has taken. He has been booked to open for the Pointer Sisters at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, one of the top showcases for any comedian.

Ricardo sees Tuesday's fund-raiser as another career step because of the lineup of veteran comedians he'll be working with. Comedy Nite owner Pierre Turgeon has booked what he calls an "all-star" group of laugh artists for the event.

"A lot of times on Tuesdays we will bring in new comedians," Turgeon said. "This time they'll be proven comedians."

The show will be headlined by Fats Johnson, former leader of the music group the New Christy Minstrels, who has made it big in Las Vegas. Other performers include Ron Coleman, Debbie Tate, Jeff Wayne and Randy Lubas, all of whom have appeared on cable TV comedy shows and regularly work in Los Angeles clubs.

"That's great for me to get in with people like that," Ricardo said. "You learn that, once you reach the ultimate level of competition, whether it's the NFL or whatever, that competitiveness is embedded in you. You want to be matched up against the best to make yourself the best."

Ricardo has been working up new material that doesn't depend on his football background and which he hopes will hold up against the out-of-towners. For example, he tells a story of woe using only numbers, plays with English words to show how a native Spanish speaker like himself can have trouble--"Why is it that the plural of mouse is mice, but the plural of house isn't hice?"--and offers an erotic proposition to a woman using the names of cars. He throws them out in a rapid-fire delivery that keeps the audience two jokes behind.

Ricardo replaced Gabe Kaplan as host of smokeless Tuesdays after Kaplan left for another assignment. Turgeon, who began the once-a-week ban in January, accepted Ricardo's offer to take over. When Lisa Shrogy-Savage of the San Diego chapter of the American Heart Assn. heard about smokeless Tuesdays, she called Turgeon and suggested a benefit. Turgeon jumped at the idea.

"I feel strongly about anything that will help people," he said. "I do not smoke and I guess I am anti-smoking. Of course, I am a realist. I own a comedy club. Lots of people smoke here, but this is something I wanted to do."

Turgeon even kicked in with more than Shrogy-Savage asked for.

"I proposed donating the door receipts to the association," Shrogy-Savage said. "He did exactly that, but then included 20% of the food and beverage profits. He believes wholeheartedly in the association."

Turgeon also believes wholeheartedly in Benny Ricardo.

"Benny is a strong influence in the community," he said. "He probably has 4,000 friends in San Diego, and they are all good friends. He leaves a lasting impression on anybody he meets. . . . He says he'll do something, and he will do it. He treats everybody the same, whether you own the business or park the cars. Plus, he does a pretty good comedy routine."

On Tuesday, Ricardo will do about 15 minutes of his own material, introduce the other acts and give away door prizes and raffle items that have been donated for the benefit.

Despite the long night ahead and his appearance with the veterans, he says he's not nervous. "I've been booed by 80,000 people," he said. "There's only about 260 there."


What: Benefit comedy show

Where: Comedy Nite Productions, 2216 El Camino Real, Oceanside

Date: Tuesday, May 22

Time: Doors open at 7 p.m. for dinner. Show begins about 8:30.

Price: $15

Tickets: Available in advance from the American Heart Assn. or at the door.

More information: 291-7454

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