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Storied Stand-Up : Cosby Clone Rondell Sheridan Takes the Long Line to Laughs

June 20, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

Comedian Rondell Sheridan brings new meaning to the manly art of "car talk."

"I bought a brand new car," he tells his audience. "I'm not bragging or anything, but it's a real nice car. I have a Yugo Turbo G-2. . . . It doesn't have a bigger engine. It just has a cassette tape that goes 'VROOOOOM!' . . . I had a Hyundai, but I hit a squirrel--and broke it. The squirrel's OK."

Sheridan, who made his debut on the "The Tonight Show" last year and appears frequently on Fox's "Comic Strip Live," is headlining at the Irvine Improv through Sunday.

A likable, highly physical comedian, he has a naturally mobile face that, combined with his ability to dip into character voices, helps sell his material to audiences, as in his rendition of a child's unrelenting attempt to get his mother's attention: "Ma! Ma! Ma! Ma! Ma! Ma! . . . " or in actually "becoming" the fifth gear of a Porsche 911 Turbo S by enthusiastically jabbing his raised arm in the air and begging the driver to get the car out of fourth gear.

Sheridan has a sharp eye for finding the unusual in the commonplace. Like the time he was flying over Iowa and noticed that the farm houses are miles from their nearest neighbor. Says Sheridan:

"I was wondering, How do you go trick-or-treating? There's some little kid (saying), 'Thanks a lot Mrs. Johnson. Come on, Bobby, maybe we'll make it to the next house by midnight.' "

Rather than one-liners, Sheridan prefers to do extended pieces that are more storylike, a la Bill Cosby. Cosby, in fact, was a big influence.

"Oh, yeah. People say, 'You remind me a lot of Cosby,' " Sheridan said by phone from New York last week. With a laugh, he added: "I wish I could look at his checkbook every month. I'd be a happy man."

Sheridan, who grew up listening to Cosby's comedy albums, prefers the storytelling approach.

"I don't write jokes; I write in story form," he said. "It's like I'm the guy who's reading you a book as opposed to a guy who's reading you a couple of quotes from different books."

Sheridan began doing stand-up in 1982, a year after arriving in New York from Chicago to study acting at the renowned Circle in the Square. He said he has always been a ham. "I was the class idiot. I won't say I was the class clown. There were two other class clowns. They're doctors now."

From the start, he has always done the extended pieces.

"The only style I knew really well was Cosby's style," he said, adding that doing stories rather than one-liners "was harder in the long run because I'd do these long stories that weren't funny" until the joke at the end.

What he had to learn, he said, "is that every line has to be funny. Even the inane set-up."

Rather than tailoring his material around the black experience, Sheridan said, his humor is more universal. Again there's that Cosby influence.

"More than anything else it's one thing I get from Cosby," he said. "Out of all the albums, I only heard him say one thing that was anything politically or racially aware. His act is free of his opinion, and I personally like that because I don't want to get on stage and just tell you my opinion. You might think, 'Who are you?' "

Now that he's in his 30s, Sheridan has spotted a few telltale signs that he's getting older.

"You start wearing dad clothes," he tells audiences. "It's true. You wake up in the morning and you want to wear boxer shorts! Not regular boxer shorts. BIG boxer shorts. Boxer shorts you can fish in."

He also envies married people:

"Once you find somebody who loves you for you, physically you can pretty much let yourself go, can't you? You can just sit in the bathtub and eat Oreo cookies for the rest of your life. You can just go, 'Honey, let me show you how really big my love can get, OK?' "

Who: Rondell Sheridan.

When: Thursday, June 20, and Sunday, June 23, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, June 21, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 22, 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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