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GETTING BUSY : Steve Marmel Writes for Arsenio by Day, Delivers for Himself at Night

December 12, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

In his act, comedian Steve Marmel jokes that four months after receiving his college degree in journalism "I was in the work force going (click), 'Whopper! ' . . . Six years of school, 25 grand in student loans, I was going, 'Mutant Turtle Happy Meal, drive up to window 2 please.' "

Actually, the 1988 University of Wisconsin graduate, who's headlining at Comedy Land in the Pan Pacific Hotel in Anaheim on Friday and Saturday nights, hasn't strayed far from journalism.

Marmel not only has been writing humor columns for USA Today for the past three years, but he's known as a political comic who scours the daily newspapers to find fodder for his comedy--such as former U.S. Sen. Paul E. Tsongas' viability as a Democratic presidential candidate:

"Paul Tsongas is a Greek liberal Democrat from Massachusetts. Come on! After Michael Dukakis, the only way you're going to get a Greek in the White House is if Trojans push him inside in a giant wooden horse."

And how about the new Michael Jackson album?

"It's pretty good," Marmel says, "but there are songs about the environment and racism on it and I don't want to be lectured about my relationship to the world by a guy who lives in a bubble with a llama and a chimp."

As Marmel sees it, his act "is basically the news filtered through my eyes, and that includes everything--news, sports, features."

His reputation for keeping his finger on the pulse of current events landed him a job as a writer on "The Arsenio Hall Show" last May. He's one of seven staff writers who help write Hall's opening monologue and sketches. It's an all-day job that begins at 8:30 in the morning when the writers begin clipping five newspapers in search of stories and topics that can be spun into jokes.

And they never know on what page or section of the paper they'll strike comedy gold.

"The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, will have a little story as big as a thumb," Marmel said in a phone interview from the studio where the show is taped. "There was one about a robber in San Francisco who was identified because he smelled. He was nicknamed 'The B.O. Bandit' by police. It was about 2 inches long on Page 40, but it was a great topic. . . . "And then any time (Vice President Dan) Quayle opens his mouth, it's fodder for humor."

Despite holding down a full-time writing job the past seven months, Marmel hasn't curtailed his own stand-up comedy career, although, he said, "everything is contingent on the show. I've canceled gigs because I've had to stay late here.

"But I'm still working as much as I can--three to four nights a week if possible. If there's an election going on, somebody's got to be the big crabby liberal."

Marmel said that when he started doing comedy as a college sophomore eight years ago, his act dealt with all the usual topics beginning comics talk about, such as dating and fast food and TV.

"It's all stuff that you know," he explained. "Then after awhile, once you get comfortable on stage, you start exploring what actually matters to you, and with me it's always been politics and current events."

About two-thirds of Marmel's stand-up act is devoted to topical material, with the rest being his observations on such topics as growing up and going to school.

"It's kind of like the introductory stuff," he said, adding with a laugh: "The audience gets a tone of my act before they get the twinge of liberal bitterness."

COMEDY LISTINGS, Page XX

Who

Steve Marmel.

When

Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Where

Comedy Land in the Pan Pacific Hotel, 1717 S. West St., Anaheim.

Whereabouts

Take the Katella exit off the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and go west. Turn right on West Street. The Pan Pacific Hotel is next to the Disneyland Hotel.

Wherewithal

$5.

Where to call

(714) 979-5653.

IN IRVINE: MARK PITTA

Mark Pitta, the host of TV's "Totally Hidden Video," headlines through Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Improv, 4255 Campus Drive. On the bill with Pitta, who specializes in "bright, goofy fun," are Taylor Mason and Tom Rhodes. (714) 854-5455.

IN BREA: TOMMY SLEDGE

Tommy Sledge, the hard-boiled '40s-style "stand-up detective," headlines through Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Improv, 945 E. Birch St. Also on the bill with the tough guy private eye are Fran Solomita and Robert Peacock. (714) 529-7878.

IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO: COMEDY SHOW

A line-up of four comics--Jason Stewart, Bill Fox, Bob Perkel and Jeff Capri--will perform Saturday, Dec. 14, at 9 p.m. at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano. Tickets are $10. (714) 496-8930.

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