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COMEDY : 'The Far Side' Meets 'The Twilight Zone'

March 19, 1992|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

Comedian Dana Gould had just taped an HBO special in Miami Beach and was staying in Florida an extra day before heading home to Los Angeles. But, as he said by phone last week, "I'm kicking and screaming the entire time, forcing myself to enjoy myself."

That's typical for a guy who says in his act: "When you think about it, life is just a long corridor with death waiting at the end. No wonder my grandfather walks so slow."

Gould, who's headlining through Sunday at the Irvine Improv, has built a career dishing up cynical and ironic vignettes of life's perverseness. It's "The Far Side" meets "The Twilight Zone." ("Pet stores are bizarre," he says on stage. "There's always a guy with one eye hanging from its socket going, 'Oh, the birds are perfectly safe, sir.' ")

(As an interviewee he is equally inventive, offering responses to his own anticipated questions: "Yes, it's my real hair color. No, it's not a wig. Miss Collins and I are simply friends.")

Gould's comedy style has been described by one critic as "mondo bizarro," tickling "parts of the imagination other stand-ups rarely reach."

"People are trying very hard to describe it," Gould acknowledged with a laugh. "I like to think of it as Esther Williams without water. . . . Of course, no one who's going to come to the Improv is going to know who Esther Williams is, so maybe I should change it to Luke Perry without sideburns . . . . Or Shannen Doherty without an attitude."

Gould considers what he does mostly as storytelling but, he said, "all the stories are true. The act tends to be dark because, like it or not, it's just the way my life seems to go."

When he was starting out in comedy in Boston a decade ago while majoring in theater at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Gould had neither a style nor a distinctive stage persona.

"I was just a joke-teller," he said. "I did jokes and impressions and over the years you find your little creative niche and who you are begins to come through. Even Jerry Seinfeld, whose style is very traditional, you remember because he's purely himself."

Gould, whose career began to take off after he moved to San Francisco in 1986, said learning to be "yourself" on stage "is like a relationship with a woman: It takes a long time to jell. I've been broken up with women for five years when I realized the relationship was just starting to get good."

Which is why, he said, "I wrote this soon-to-to-be-released book: 'The Women Who Love Too Much and the Men Who Hide in the Bushes Outside Their Apartments.' "

Gould's new cable special, "HBO's One Night Stand With Dana Gould," will air later this year. Although it features all new material, Gould said it deals with "the same old neuroses" as his last one, "Dana Gould: Panic, Lust and Confusion" on Showtime.

"It's sort of different problems equal Angst, " he said. "This is one of the only cable specials where you will actually see the comedian go into the audience and heckle himself--because I didn't feel anybody could do it better than I could."

The special also will include a character familiar to his fans: the overly optimistic New Age counselor, "one of those cliche-spieling pop psychologists who, when you're upset says things like, 'Hey, Mister I think it's time to take a great big swim in Lake You.' "

Gould said audiences come to expect him to do certain characters, "so I'll milk that cow for all it's worth. I feel like a pimp with some of these characters: 'Go on, get out, make me some money!' "

A lot of the material in his upcoming special grew out of an unlikely venue: a bookstore. Last fall Gould and several friends began performing Wednesday nights at Big & Tall Books, a Los Angeles bookstore and coffeehouse. The unbilled performances included stand-up bits and sketches.

"We just wanted to know what it would be like, just as a different thing, to go right to the people and eliminate even the stage and microphone," said Gould. "It's an interesting experience. It changes what you do. It's a lot harder to do things that aren't completely the truth in that situation."

Gould said he has taken a break from the coffeehouse gig. After all, he's got big career plans for the future.

"Well, I'm trying to get into the Ice Capades," he said. "Since the film 'JFK' was so successful and since you can't make a sequel, we're going to make 'JFK on Ice.' Dorothy Hamil is playing Oswald."

Who: Dana Gould.

When: Thursday, March 19, and Sunday, March 22, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, March 20, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 21, at 8 and 10:30 p.m. With Johnny Steele and Tommy Dean.

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.

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