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COMEDY : Garan's Rapid-Fire Approach Really Packs a Punch Line

August 13, 1992|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly covers comedy for O.C. Live!

Comedian Billy Garan has some advice for those planning to attend their high school reunions: Don't go.

"You know who goes to your high school reunion? Idiots, " says the energetic New Jersey-born comic. "Everybody you hated in high school shows up. The really cool people OD'd years ago. . . . Or they're living elsewhere under the Witness Protection Program."

Besides, Garan says, people go to their high school reunion "to find out who's got more or less of what later in life."

"Now, men go to a high school reunion for the hair contest. . . . All right, I didn't do real well on the hair contest," concedes the balding, slightly pudgy Garan.

"Whenever they ask who's losing their hair, guys never volunteer. It's always the woman going, 'Here he is, right here!' Girls, you got no idea what it's like to lose your hair. It's like going down in bra size every year, that's what it's like.

"Why do girls go to high school reunions? For the fat contest. All women like to go back 10 or 20 years later and go, 'Remember the prom queen? What a fat pig! Thank God!' "

A fast-talking comic with a rapid-fire delivery and a high joke quotient, Garan operates under the comedy philosophy of "get in, give them the joke and get out."

"That's the norm for me. I'm a real high-energy act. I just get out there and hit it very hard, machine-gun style," said Garan, who is headlining at the Laff Stop this week. "A lot of comics now will deliver a line and sit back. They're almost tiring to watch."

Not Garan. In fact, his polished, rapid-fire delivery is something of a throwback to an earlier era of comedy.

"I hear that so much," he said, speaking by phone from his home in Burbank last week. "Everything old is new again. There are very few people doing that type of delivery, that old school stuff. So it is refreshing for audiences, too. They come up to me all the time and tell me that."

Garan's old-school approach is the result of emulating the style of his comic idols: Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason and Phyllis Diller.

"When Rodney's club first opened in New York I used to go there a lot," he recalled. "I'd like, blow my paycheck for a week and just watch Rodney. He'd just get up on that stage and he'd be, like, sweating bullets for 40 minutes and it was just nonstop stuff. He was hysterical."

Garan worked a variety of jobs before he started doing comedy in small clubs and Catch a Rising Star and the Improv in New York in 1980.

"You name it and I did it--limo driver, I sold tuxedos . . . I had my own business in gourmet foods."

But stand-up, he said, "was always something I wanted to do. I dabbled with it a few years prior to 1980. I got up in clubs here and there. In 1980--it was my 30th birthday, as a matter of fact--I looked in the mirror and wasn't happy with what I was doing."

At the time he was working as a maitre d' in a restaurant and realized that only comedy or the "prospect of entertaining" made him happy.

Garan, now 42, honed his comedy style working for two years at a boisterous little club on Third Avenue called the Good Times Cafe.

"It was was a nightmare room," he said. "If you were going to hold people's attention you had to work like a machine gun. You had to work that fast and be that big."

He also performed in bars in New Jersey, working the proverbial "tough audiences" that would heckle and even scream at a comic whenever there was a lull on stage.

Garan's list of comic fodder includes being overweight, driving, the war between the sexes and relationships with his parents. Here he is on:

* Car air bags: "They only give you one air bag. The passenger doesn't get an air bag. Do you know why? Because we don't make the payments, that's why."

* Parking spots for the handicapped: "They've gone overboard with this one. Have you been to a mall? Thousands of handicap spots. It's like they're expecting a road rally for these people. . . . And who are these people that buy new cars and take up two parking spots, huh? Yeah, you think they buy a new suit and sit sideways in a restaurant? No!"

Garan, who is as adept with impressions as he is with jokes, closes his show with a routine in which he's a chronic TV channel changer, flipping from movie to movie. The bit incorporates taped sound effects and dialogue from jungle films to Westerns.

"I like to do really offbeat things that no one's doing," he said, mentioning the Dead End Kids ("Go on copper, beat it. You ain't got nothing on us.") and Robert Wagner ("Ah, but baby, you're beautiful.").

Which brings us to Garan's primary philosophy when he's on stage:

"I want to give them the best show I can, always," he said. "I don't want to stand there and just give them attitude. And, to tell you the truth, rather than say I'm a comic, I'd say I would fall more into the category of an entertainer. . . . Always give them a show."

Who: Billy Garan.

When: Thursday, Aug. 13, and Sunday, Aug. 16, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Aug. 13 and 14, at 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m. With Kelly Moran.

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.

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