When comedian Dennis Wolfberg was teaching sixth grade at an elementary school in the South Bronx in the 1970s, truancy was a big problem.
You know the South Bronx, "a community that socioeconomically ranks under CALCUTTA to give you an international base of comparison. . . . The school newspaper had an OBITUARY COLUMN! . . . I would assign compositions, 'What I want to be IF I grow up.' "
Speaking in his patented delivery, in which he squints then bulges out his eyes as he literally SQ-U-E-E-Z-ES out key words for emphasis, Wolfberg recalls that "these kids were truant beyond all human imagination, and they came in with the most BRAZEN excuses.
"I had a kid who missed two days and he told me he had had a stroke! . . . I congratulated him on a REMARKABLE recovery, to be back two days following a stroke. What a REMARKABLE commitment to education. I had one kid who missed three weeks. He told me he had been on JURY duty. . . . CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?"
Wolfberg, who starred in his own half-hour comedy special on HBO last year and has been nominated for an American Comedy Award as "Best Male Stand-up," is appearing at the Brea Improv through Sunday.
The bug-eyed comedian has been described by critics as "perhaps the most verbally adroit comic working today . . . flat out hilarious" and as "one of those rare comics who can take the simplest moments of life and turn them into the greatest laughs you'll ever have."
Now that he's middle-aged, Wolfberg says that his doctor has told him to increase the fiber content in his diet. So he eats this new cereal called Fiber One:
"I don't know if any of you are familiar with this rather powerful piece of breakfast fare, the GRIM REAPER of morning chow, this NUclear laxative in a BOX! This stuff is unbelievably fiber rich. It has six times more fiber than Grape Nuts and three times more fiber than raw TWINE! . . . It's one thing to be regular, it's another to be unSTOPPable!"
Mining his own life for laughs, Wolfberg talks about everything from his teaching days to married life and fatherhood.
Wolfberg, who did not become a comic until he was 30, didn't get married (to former stand-up comic Jeannie McBride) until he was 39. And he was 40 when he became a father. ("I sometimes say I was bar mitzvahed at 17. So I was always a late bloomer," he says.)
The couple's son, Daniel, was delivered via natural childbirth, using, as Wolfberg says, "this procedure that was invented by a man named Lamaze . . . the MARQUIS de Lamaze, disciple of Dr. Josef MENGELE. . . a man who concluded that woman could counteract the INCREDIBLE pain of childbirth through rhythmic breathing as a reasonable substitute for ANESTHESIA!
"I think we all agree that breathing is a reasonable substitute. . . . It's like asking a man to tolerate a vasectomy by HYPERVENTILATING!"
Who: Dennis Wolfberg.
When: Thursday, Feb. 28, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, March 1, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 2, at 8 and 10:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 3, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: The Improv, 945 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.