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COMEDY : Nichols' Long-Distance Relationship

February 20, 1992|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

Just back from performing 2 1/2 weeks in Denmark and Sweden, comedian Diane Nichols was battling either the flu or a severe case of jet lag.

"I'm in my jammies and I've got everything on the couch and ottoman I'm going to need for the next 48 hours," she said by phone from her home in Los Angeles last week.

Nichols, who's headlining at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach through Sunday, said some of the irony in her material, much of which deals with male and female relationships, just didn't transfer overseas. But some lines inexplicably did even better in Sweden and Denmark than they do here.

In one of her bits, for example, she describes going out on a date:

"This guy's looking across the car at me. He's blowing smoke out through his nose. Very sexy. . . . It looked like he was steam-pressing his tie."

That, Nichols said, "gets a big laugh in America but, my God, those people loved that."

The line serves to illustrate Nichols' comedy style.

"My favorite lines and the lines that always come through are the little 'verbal cartoons.' It's like I'm drawing them a picture with words," she said.

In her act, Nichols talks about everything from the fact that her cluttered car looks like "a big purse" to how men leave gym socks lying around "to turn into tiny napalm bombs."

Nichols, who has appeared on "The Tonight Show," "Late Night With David Letterman" and HBO's "Women of the Night III," calls herself a monologuist: "It's old-fashioned, but it'll do."

A 1987 Newsweek article on "The New Queens of Comedy" was more eloquent, describing her as "the heroine of the 9-to-5 crowd, a slick pro with flawless timing."

" Heroine is a pretty strong word," she said. "I have a problem with heroine or genius being applied to too many people, but certainly I'm typical of the average working woman in that I (once) worked in offices and I really understand that group of women that was raised on Cosmopolitan magazine and were trying to get the Farrah Fawcett hairdo, but by the time they did, it was out."

Nichols, who began doing stand-up at the same time Jay Leno, David Letterman and Elayne Boosler were starting out in the '70s, worked days at IBM--"as a 'temp' they never let go."

The San Francisco native, who moved to Los Angeles after majoring in theater at San Francisco State University, had learned she could make people laugh in junior high school by doing humorous oral book reports "because I didn't type well." The die as cast at 16 when she turned a journalism class writing assignment into a performance piece: "I did an incredible impression of Marilyn Monroe teaching a cooking class and getting a little crocked on the sherry while she was making the pie.

"The teacher just loved it. He said, 'Kiddo, whatever it is you just did, that's your calling.' "

Nichols said her penchant for doing material dealing with male and female relationships comes in part from belonging "to that generation of women who are still struggling" with what it means to be a woman.

"There are those who are very comfortable with the new wave of not fixing up or not catering to men, but I think the average working woman is still caught between the two messages. We still have mothers who gave men bigger portions at dinner and the unbroken piece of pie. We've grown from that and yet we're still influenced by that."

Nichols said she has always tread both worlds--"I've always liked to set my hair and wear makeup"--and yet she has worked in a male-dominated field "and I've seen the sexism, and, boy, it makes me mad."

As she sees it, "I've still got the last toe dragging in the old world, and I think most women have."

What it comes down to is that Nichols is not unlike her own mother: "A strong woman . . . who had her hair done."

Who: Diane Nichols.

When: Thursday, Feb. 20, and Sunday, Feb. 23, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 21, at 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 22, 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m.

Where: The Laff Stop, 2122 S.E. Bristol St., Newport Beach.

Whereabouts: From the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway, take the Irvine Avenue/Campus Drive exit onto Bristol Street and go south one block.

Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

Where to Call: (714) 852-8762.

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