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The Best Of O. C. : Critic's Choices : Comedy

January 31, 1991|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly reviews comedy for The Times Orange County Edition.

Digging into recent memory, it wasn't hard to find comics who met and even exceeded expectations during their appearances in Orange County. On the other hand, it didn't take much excavating to come up with big disappointments as well.

Starting with the best performances, Judy Tenuta would have to win the award for weirdest. She's crude, wild and surprising. Tenuta takes you on an idiosyncratic trip, as she did at the Irvine Improv last January, with her hilarious send-ups of sexual stereotypes and Judy-worship.

The most mind-tickling show was served up by Rita Rudner, another lady with her own perspective, albeit a more subdued one. Her relaxed Gracie Allen in La-La Land persona can get a tad dawdling, but Rudner knows how to charm, like when she filled the Laff Stop in Newport Beach last January with her cockeyed reflections.

The most provocative performance came from George Carlin. Now approaching his mid-50s, Carlin opened the '90s (in a January gig at Anaheim's Celebrity Theatre) with a chip on his shoulder--and a stream of dirty words on his tongue, just like always.

As for most sustained side-splitting, Richard Jeni scored at the Improv in June. Jeni is one of the best at developing a stream-of-consciousness gag theme.

The best prop belonged to Tenuta, who used a giggling guy in the front row as sort of a human rubber chicken.

Now for the letdowns, the comedians who didn't do it for me.

The most slick and over-rehearsed was Jeff Foxworthy. His gig at the Celebrity in April had a few hits, but his Southern-fried humor was generally limited.

The most uneven was Paula Poundstone. She brought plenty of spontaneity to the Improv in July, but with very mixed results.

Bob Saget's show at the small Top Secret Comedy Club in Garden Grove was the corniest, with the popular host of ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos" offering up the same goofy patter he brings to TV.

The most predictable performance was served up by the Smothers Brothers, who have been doing the same routine for 30 years and continued to do it at Knott's Berry Farm in August. Come on, guys, can't you get along yet?

And the just plain worst award goes to the fabled Chicago-based Second City group, who performed tired, unimaginative skits at Orange Coast College in November. Weren't these folks on the cutting edge once?

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