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COMEDY : Paul Zimmerman Cuts Up With Quips Instead of Machetes

October 25, 1990|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

Comedian Paul Zimmerman knew it was time for a career change in 1985 when, as a juggler-magician, he ran out of new things to juggle.

After all, how do you top a machete, a water balloon and a Twinkie?

But by then the Miami native was already doing more comedy than anything else in his act, so he decided to switch to stand-up.

He has since been the opening act for the Pointer Sisters ("One of my big highs was the first time I worked with them in Tahoe") and has written jokes for other comedians, including Jay Leno ("The writing high was seeing Jay do one of the jokes I sold him on the 'Tonight Show' ").

In his own act, Zimmerman talks about relationships, digging into his own marriage and divorce for material:

"The worst thing about dating after a divorce is that you're gun-shy. Your date goes, 'Pick me up about 8 o'clock' and you're going, 'Oh, no. I'm not ready for that kind of commitment just yet.' "

The L.A.-based comic, who has appeared on "L.A. Comic Strip Live," "Comedy Express" and "Showtime Comedy Club Network," also likes to do topical humor:

"The nice thing I like about the Iraqi thing is the rest of the world is behind us for a change. The British are going crazy with this. But if the British really want to scare Iraq they should just threaten to go down there and hold a soccer game."

Although he enjoys doing political humor, Zimmerman says, "it depends on if the crowd is going to let you do it or not." If he gauges that the audience is not too receptive to his digging further into the Iraqi situation, for example, he'll move on to something else.

As a comedian, he says, "our job is to entertain, not to preach, so you just sort of bail out of it."

Zimmerman, a one-time aerospace engineering major who dropped out of the University of Texas in 1977 to go to mime school, writes all of his own material.

He carries a notebook with him to jot down ideas that occur to him during the day and sets aside time to write every morning.

As he sees it, there are basically two ways to write stand-up comedy.

"You can sit down and wait for inspiration, or you can sit down and go, 'OK, married people sharing a bed,' and then think, 'What's funny about this?'--basically brainstorm every word and phrase you can think of and write it on paper. Don't think about it, don't edit, just write it. Then go back and look at it (and say), here's the thoughts and what's funny about it. Before you know it, you've got a ton of jokes."

Zimmerman, who is also writing sitcom scripts and a screenplay ("What comic isn't?"), recently started working with other performers who want to make the switch to stand-up.

"What I do is write and also help them structure an entire act," he says. "There seems to actually be a demand for it."

As for his own switch to stand-up, he says, "It's the greatest thing in the world.

"It's just a lot of fun. It's so neat to take something you thought of and take it up on stage and make people laugh."

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