Carol Leifer describes her irreverent, highly personal brand of humor as "comedy that won't stick to your dental work."
"I always feel like it's pretty gentle," Leifer, who's at the Improv in Brea through Sunday, said by phone from Los Angeles last week. "I talk a lot to people in the audience, and they look at you with fear. But I'm really not one of those comedians who says, 'Hey, nice tie. Where did you get that toupee, pal?' That's not me. It's too easy.
"If I give it to somebody in my act, it's someone who deserves it."
People who work and shop at Neiman Marcus apparently deserve it, though. "Whenever I walk into a store like Neiman Marcus," she says, "all the women there are looking at me like, 'Is Penneys closed?'
"I like to walk in there in ripped jeans and a T-shirt and go over to somebody and say, 'Can you tell me what floor tires are on?"'
Leifer (pronounced LEEfer) makes a point of not cursing on stage. "It's not really a moral thing. I see these guys whose acts are just riddled (with obscenities) and then they go on TV and they can't really do their act. They have a rhythm that's destroyed because they have to take (the obscenities) out."
A frequent guest on "Late Night With David Letterman"--she'll make her 22nd appearance June 11--Leifer's career has soared in recent years. She hosted "Caroline's Comedy Hour" on A&E for 1 1/2 years and served as host of "Leifer Madness"--a daily series that featured talk, interviews and videos--on VH-1.
"You can't develop any kind of following without TV," said Leifer, who has been nominated four times for an American Comedy Award as Best Female Comedy Club Stand-up.
Even she was surprised by the impact of her VH-1 show. Last year, she was in New Orleans to do a CBS show the night before the Super Bowl and, she recalls, "every other person I passed when I walked down the street was saying, 'Hey, Carol Leifer!' 'VH-1'!'
"I felt like Madonna."
Leifer, who has been involved in comedy for 10 years, says her act hasn't "gone through any kind of radical metamorphosis." She continues to tap her personal life for most of her material, dealing with such topics as being divorced and in her 30s.
"When you're single again, at the beginning you're very optimistic and you say, 'I want to meet someone who's really smart, really sweet, really sensitive.' And six months later you're like, 'Lord, any mammal with a day job.' "
Leifer also likes to reminisce about growing up on Long Island: "I ask, 'How many people remember when the worst thing about crack was if you stepped on it you broke your mother's back?' " And she talks about the music she listened to while growing up: "Did you ever go to see a group from the '60s and they're not the originals? Because I went to see the Temptations, and the guys were white!"
Leifer, who majored in theater arts at the State University of New York in Binghamton, said she hadn't planned on a career in comedy. But "I went to school with (comedian) Paul Reiser. He'd go to comedy clubs in the summer for audition nights. I went and watched him and it looked like a lot of fun.
"Show up at 2 in the afternoon and pick up your number and that night you're a comedian--I just liked that. Jay Leno calls comedy a very low-tech job. That's the beauty of it. You've got a mike and lights and the comedian and the audience and you're in business.
"My mom is a psychologist, my father is an optometrist, my sister is a psychiatric social worker, my brother is a psychiatrist--and I entertain people in the waiting room."
Who: Carol Leifer.
When: Thursday, May 30, and Sunday, June 2, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, May 31, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 1, 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 onto State College Boulevard and right onto Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.
Wherewithal: $7 and $10.
Where to Call: (714) 529-7878.