With Valentine's Day and his first wedding anniversary both in the same week, comedian Mark Schiff has been thinking a lot about love and marriage.
Schiff, who is appearing at the Brea Improv through Sunday, says he met his wife, Nancy, three years ago at a show he was doing in San Antonio, Tex. They exchanged phone numbers but didn't go out together until a year later.
"We were both dating other people at the time," Schiff explained in an interview. "I was dating a very religious Jewish girl. The only thing she put out was snacks."
Schiff, known for a deadpan delivery that one critic likened to a "hip Buster Keaton," grew up in the Bronx where he was inspired to become a comedian at age 12 after seeing Rodney Dangerfield perform on stage in the mid-'60s.
Although he was too young to understand the jokes Dangerfield was making at his wife's expense, Schiff was "so taken" by the "love and attention" Dangerfield was generating from the audience that he told himself, "That's what I want to do for a living."
Now he's doing wife jokes.
"I didn't know until I got married that I had so many problems," Schiff says. "But thank God she's there to point those things out. . . . I didn't know that I didn't know how to dress. I'll put on a sport coat. She'll go, 'You're not going to wear that , are you?'
" 'No, I'm just going to slide under the car and change the oil.' "
Marriage is only one item on Schiff's comedy menu, which he has served up on the "Tonight Show" and "Late Night With David Letterman." His act centers on what LA Weekly's Judy Brown calls "those universal themes of stand-up comedy: the inner workings of the North American family unit and the unworkability of other relationships."
Of love, Schiff says, "When you say, 'The last thing I want to do is hurt you,' you mean, 'It's on the list, I've just got other things to do first.' "
And he recalls those times "when you break up and everything reminds you of the person. Your friend goes, 'Let's go for a walk.' And you think, ' She walked. . . .' "
Schiff prides himself on having "a very clean act, a la (Bill) Cosby. It's a very family-oriented act that everyone can identify with.
"The characters I do are your family. I don't do famous people. I do mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and brothers. I do everyone you have Thanksgiving dinner with."
Schiff's own anti-authority streak also comes out on stage.
'My act is basically getting back at authority figures," he said. "Part of it is I say the things people wish they could say. A cop pulls you over and says things like, 'What's your hurry?' I look out the window and say, 'I'm on my way to your wife's house.' "
Later this month, the Beverly Hills-based comic will fly to New York to tape his own half-hour Showtime comedy special at New York University. The special, which will air next fall, is called "My Crummy Childhood."
Which prompts Schiff to observe: "Did you ever have dinner with your parents, look at them and think to yourself, 'If these weren't my parents, I'd never visit these people?' "
Who: Mark Schiff.
When: Thursday, Feb. 14, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 16, at 8 and 10:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 17, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.
Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange Freeway and go west. Turn left onto State College Boulevard and right onto Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.
Wherewithal: $7 to $10.
Where to call: (714) 529-7878.