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ROCKWELL'S ON A ROLL : Between Killer Tomatoes and Fake Consultant Gigs, Rick's Coming Into His Own

December 20, 1990|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

When it comes to publicity stunts, Rick Rockwell has no peer.

In 1982, he told jokes for 30 hours and three minutes, making the Guinness Book of World Records for "longest continuous comedy routine."

He followed that up in 1987 by performing in six clubs in five states--all in the same evening. (He had a little help from his friends, who own a private jet.)

"But now," Rockwell says, "it's gotten to the point where people have started to recognize me from what I'm doing, rather than me having to do those things." Indeed, at 34, the Pittsburgh native is coming into his own both as performer and writer.

Rockwell, who is at the Improv in Irvine through Sunday, made six appearances on "Star Search" in 1989. He appears frequently on Fox's "Comic Strip Live" and recently was named "Hollywood's Hottest New Comic," beating out more than 200 others.

This spring 20th Century Fox will release "The Killer Tomatoes Strike Back," the second sequel to the classic 1980 spoof "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." Rockwell, who had two roles in the first sequel ("Return of the Killer Tomatoes"), co-wrote and co-stars in this one as Lance Boyle, private detective.

"Lance Boyle doesn't believe in killer tomatoes," Rockwell says. "But by the end of the film he realizes they are the world's most vicious veggie.

"Kids are going to go gaga," he predicts, describing the special effects as "unbelievable."

He recently attended the first public screening of "The Killer Tomatoes Strike Back" in San Diego--an appropriate place, since he lived there in the mid-'80s and became a local celebrity as co-star of "San Diego at Large," a TV show he describes as a cross between a local "Second City" and a local "Real People."

He has since moved to Venice. "I'm trying to fit in," he says, "but I don't know if I want to tie-dye my whole wardrobe and have part of my brain removed."

But, he added, "I know I'm going to stay there because my house is for sale."

Among other things, Rockwell is known for his weird assortment of sound effects (he does everything from a Geiger counter to crickets) and character voices (he does Pee-wee Herman as a safe cracker). He's not sure how to describe his overall style. "I kind of consider myself as a bit of a comedy chameleon."

He'd just returned from an afternoon show at a men's club at which the average age is 65.

And then there was the recent gig in which he was hired to masquerade as a consultant to enliven a company meeting.

"I was doing a seminar on how to improve service. I had them in stitches. But people were taking notes up to the end of the presentation! Literally! I came up with catch phrases like, 'A fake smile is better than a real frown.' "

It went over so well--and was so lucrative--that he is thinking of doing similar presentations for other companies. Meanwhile, though, he's devoting a lot more of his time to writing. "The Killer Tomatoes Strike Back" was his first screenplay; he's currently working on a situation comedy pilot and yet another "Killer Tomatoes" sequel.

The title? "Killer Tomatoes Go to France."

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