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PEEPER TOM : Sledge Hammering Out a Hard-Guy Image Straight from the '40's

May 23, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

His name's Sledge--Tommy Sledge.

He's a shamus, a flatfoot, a peeper, a gumshoe, a professional tailster: He's the 'Stand-Up Detective," replete with '40s vintage fedora, baggy pants and a tie so loud the cops might burst in at any moment and cuff him for disturbing the peace.

Sledge blew into Brea this week for a weeklong caper at the Improv.

Or, as Sledge would say after lighting up a cigarette (a gasper, a lung rocket, a nicotine torch): "It was night. Raindrops rabbit-punched the concrete face of the city until it broke out in red neon welts. I was still speaking in the past tense. I asked myself why."

Here's the skinny on Sledge, that "hard guy from the '40s":

He was born in Los Angeles but raised all over the country. "I was an Army kid, so pretty much take your pick. Chicago figures pretty heavily in it. More than any other town I suppose," he confessed in a phoner from L.A. last week.

Sledge did his first gumshoe character 15 years ago in a San Francisco improvisational group. He has since had a few acting parts in television and movies, "but nothing to write home about--even if I had a home or knew how to write."

He's been doing comedy 11 years, including hosting "Tommy Sledge, P.I." and "Fast-Forward Detective" on HBO's Comedy Channel. He also wrote a book called "Eat Lead, Clown!" ("I figured there's no point in writing the book if the title can't have an exclamation point!" he said.)

The book is a '40s-style mystery caper "by and about Tommy Sledge." And he's already penning a sequel: "Kiss It or Die!"

So what made a "regular jug-eared Joe from Palookaville" start doing this comedy detective caper?

"I've always been a fan of the old novels and the old Black Mask magazine short stories," Sledge said, referring to such literary mugs as Chandler and Hammett. "They were at their most lurid in the short story format because you've gotta pack it in in a short story. So the character never ran, he 'hurled his heft.' And he wouldn't walk, he 'pounded his dogs.' "

Sledge, who will sometimes sip a cup of Joe or take a belt from a bottle of "cheap hooch" on stage, said that his act is pure stand-up and that the subjects he talks about are not much different from other comics.

Of course, no other stand-up comic offers his observations through the eyes of a "guy who suddenly popped into this decade from the late '40s and early '50s, a guy who is really still in it."

Speaking in his hard-guy delivery, Sledge talks about home security: "I moved to a new neighborhood. I figured it'd be safe because there were Neighborhood Watch signs everywhere. The first time I had a date home in the bedroom, they're all watching."

On former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., Sledge says: "Barry at his trial claimed, 'I have a drinking problem.' It is a problem getting alcohol into those little tiny crack vials."

When the spirit moves him, Sledge descends into the audience, offering his pulp-oriented observations. ("Two guys at a table. No dates. When I got a closer look, I could see why.")

As Sledge comments at various times during his act, "It's my job; it's what I do."

Who: Tommy Sledge.

When: Thursday, May 23, and Sunday, May 26, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, May 24, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 25, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.

Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn left on State College Boulevard and right on Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.

Wherewithal: $7 and $10.

Where to call: (714) 529-7878.

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