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MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SCREAM : Mark Pitta's Act Is Puckish on Pop Culture

July 04, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

The publicity release describes comedian Mark Pitta as specializing in "bright, goofy fun." Pitta, who is headlining at the Irvine Improv through Sunday, sees it a bit differently.

"I don't like the word goofy, " he said. "Pluto, yes. Mickey and Pluto, I think, more than Goofy."

Actually, Pitta said, "silly is better than goofy. It's not juvenile silly. It's more charming. . . . I think of myself as Puck in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' I'm mischievous."

Just how Puckish is Pitta?

In his act, he says he enjoys renting X-rated movies and then taping "The Wizard of Oz" over them just so he'll know that some frustrated guy will one day be watching and thinking, "When is this Dorothy chick gonna get naked?"

He also talks about how, when he was a boy, his grandfather used to scare him with tales of ghosts under the bed. So now he goes over to his grandfather's house and, as if speaking through a broken microphone, says, 'Grandfather, t-ll -e, is yo-r hear-ng ge-t-ng a-y be-t-tr?"

The Oakland native, who made his debut on "The Tonight Show" last year and has been signed as the new permanent host of Fox's "Totally Hidden Video," has been described by critics as a bright and likable comedian with a flair for mimicry. Said a critic for the Denver Post: "When he does Sean Penn--'Doesn't Sean Penn look like he's looking at a menu and hates the food?'--you see Sean Penn."

Pitta is also known for creating instant characterizations by using only bits of dialogue, such as his 3-year-old with a hangover who pleads, "Mommy, turn down my Speak and Spell, please. "

On stage, the theater-trained Pitta comes across as sort of the Puck-next-door.

"A lot of people have told me that it seems like they've met me before," he said by phone from San Francisco, where he was performing recently. "I'm very much like a friend in high school you haven't kept in contact with, but if you saw him tomorrow you could pick right up where you left off. I kind of set up this comfortability with the audience."

Popular music is a common bond Pitta shares with audiences. He devotes a good portion of his act to the subject and it allows him to display his talent for mimicry.

In one piece, he talks about how "suspenseful" Elvis Presley movies were "because you just didn't know when he was going to start singing." In a fast-paced trailer for Presley movies, Pitta does Elvis singing to stop a cattle stampede and then does him as a mechanic who squeezes an oil change out of his pompadour.

"It was hard to analyze the meaning behind Elvis' songs," Pitta says. "Now 'Jail House Rock,' I can't figure this one out: 'The warden threw a party in the county jail . . . ' What for? . . . My favorite lyric is, 'No. 47 said to No. 3, 'You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see. . . . ' I don't think Elvis knew what he was singing about there."

His signature routine involves simply listing rock groups that should tour together just based on their names.

"So we'd have double bills like Talking Heads . . . with Simple Minds.

"Meat Loaf . . . and Bread.

"Fine Young Cannibals . . . with Missing Persons.

"Madonna . . . and Super Tramp.

"One of my favorites is Kansas . . . and Toto. It would have been a great double bill."

Who: Mark Pitta.

When: Thursday, July 4, and Sunday, July 7, at 8:30 p.m., Friday, July 5, at 8:30, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 6, at 8, 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine.

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

Wherewithal: $7 and $10.

Where to call: (714) 854-5455.

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