The critics aren't quite sure what to make of comedian Bobby Collins.
One New York reviewer likened Collins, who is headlining at the Irvine Improv through Sunday, to the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Another New York critic said he punctuates his act "with a snappy repertoire of goofball gestures, smirks and shrugs that are more than slightly reminiscent of Red Skelton. . . . Collins seems to have a little George Carlin lurking inside him as well."
And a Boston reviewer was even more hard-pressed to pin down Collins, observing: "There were touches of Bill Cosby, David Brenner, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Jerry Lewis and even George Jessel in Collins' bits."
The rubbery-faced Collins, whose highly physical humor ranges from flamboyant and rapid-fire to cerebral and emotional, says he's simply being himself on stage.
"People see different things in you," he said by phone from his home in Santa Monica last week. "They always try to compare it to somebody else because they enjoy it, and they never hit the mark. I'm not like Jerry Lewis at all, but I'll do a whining bit and they might think that sounds like Jerry."
Regardless of to whom he is compared, Collins said, "it's nice that they walk away and like you. That's all I care about.
"The best review I ever got was the New York Times (in 1986). It says, 'the most natural comic working today.' I really respected that because I was like a nobody in New York and I started working at this club called Caroline's. That was my big break. I was held over for two weeks after that and (the club) was sold out every night. So things have been good since then."
Collins, 35, is a onetime vice president of Calvin Klein's junior division who broke into comedy 10 years ago. He has gone on to become a frequent guest on "Evening at the Improv" and "Into the Night Starring Rick Dees," in addition to opening for such stars as Cher, the Pointer Sisters and Dionne Warwick.
Collins emphasizes that he is not a one-liner comedian.
"I look at me as a storyteller," he said. "I don't know any (traditional) jokes. You know, 'Two Jews walked into . . . ' I can't even remember a joke. I take what's happening in life and just tell about it and embellish it."
He'll talk, for example, about visiting Florida, where the humidity was so high that when he went into a clothing store the armpits on the shirts were already wet. But he doesn't just talk about something. It's important, he said, to "transcend the words" and show what he's talking about.
"Most comics just do the words," he said. "I like adding me with everything I do."
Indeed, to fully appreciate Collins' humor, he must be seen as well as heard.
When he talks about an old Jewish lady he saw shuffling down the sidewalk in Miami Beach, he'll mimic her slowly pushing her walker and screaming "Murray! Get out of the water, Murray!"
Or in talking about how every city has its own personality, the Manhattan native will say, "Boy, you people really live good out here. Beautiful ocean. Clean. . . . In New York, you go swimming, you see fish with IV bottles hanging out of their fins."
He'll then imitate the fish by squeezing his lips together and walking across the stage with the microphone hanging down as if it were an IV bottle.
If Collins has a comedic influence it is Red Skelton.
"I used to love watching him when I was growing up," he said. "Not because he told jokes but because he made you feel. What I learned from him was that to get a message across you have to make people feel. In order to make them feel, the best way to do it is to make them laugh at themselves. Then you can lead them anywhere."
And, he said, "if you can give people laughter and take them somewhere, they'll love you."
Who: Bobby Collins.
When: Thursday, July 11, and Sunday, July 14, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, July 12, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 13, 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 the UC Irvine campus.
Wherewithal: $7 to $10.
Where to call: (714) 854-5455.