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COMEDY : Mittleman Will Peddle His Dry Goods in Irvine

May 02, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

It's springtime, and comedian Steve Mittleman's attention has turned to baseball. As a kid growing up in Queens, N.Y., Mittleman says, he played ball ("but not too well") and watched the Mets play every chance he'd get.

And at 35, he says, he's still like a little kid wanting to be a Major League baseball player.

"I think even 90-year-old men think about becoming a Major League baseball player: 'Hey, if I get in shape I'll go to spring training. I'm in Florida anyway.' "

Mittleman, performing at the Irvine Improv through Sunday, is known for his dry, self-deprecating humor. The cherubic 6-foot-4 comic says he used to be a model--for socks, on radio. As for his trademark recessed chin, he notes, "The worst thing about having a weak chin is it takes me three to four hours to change a pillowcase."

Mittleman, a veteran of "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night With David Letterman," has a low-key style that was once described by a Times reviewer as "clever, understated material imparted with a retiring, kill-'em-with-softness delivery."

Mittleman, however, takes exception to the low-key reference.

"I don't think so," he said by phone from his home in Los Angeles last week. After pausing, he added: "I am pretty much low key, but that doesn't mean low laughs. It doesn't mean I don't do well and that I'm not funny. People tend to make an association of low-key and not funny.

"Stand-up comedy evolved over the last 10 years to 'energy is laughs.' Humor is like a diet: You could eat things that are like fast-food, empty calories or you could eat things more on the gourmet side and"--he chuckled--"I'm more on the gourmet side."

As he sees it, his delivery is "easygoing." And dry.

It's always been more or less the same, he said. "How I have evolved is I'm just more me."

And who is Steve Mittleman?

"Just the way I am on stage," he said. "I am like that. I'm dry."

And given, at least during this interview, to long pauses.

So, what's he talking about on stage these days?

"Uh, hmmm," he said, pausing. "That's a good question. What am I talking about?"

Another pause.

"I'm talking about life--it sounds like such a generalization--and my viewpoint of the world."

His comedy, Mittleman explained, "is personal yet observational. That's how I react in the world."

The 14-year comedy veteran, who did his first stand-up routine in his college speech class when he was 20 and has gone on to appear in "Roxanne" with Steve Martin and in Woody Allen's "Radio Days," talks about growing up in New York City.

"I grew up in a middle-class Jewish family," he says. "I went to a very strict Hebrew school. We had nuns."

And, he says, it was a tough neighborhood: "Every day I'd get mugged and beaten. Then I'd leave the house."

Who: Steve Mittleman.

When: Thursday, May 2, and Sunday, May 5, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, May 3, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 4, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine.

Whereabouts: In the Irvine Marketplace shopping center, across Campus Drive from UC Irvine.

Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

Where to Call: (714) 854-5455.

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