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THE NEXT SOUND YOU HEAR . . . : Rick Rockwell Doesn't Just Joke About Garbage Trucks; He Becomes One

August 27, 1992|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly covers comedy for O.C. Live!

Anyone who has seen Rick Rockwell perform knows that what he doesn't say is often as funny as what he does. A master of sound effects, Rockwell makes any routine come to life with a repertoire of noises ranging from a clicking Geiger counter to an extremely loud duck call.

When he does his classic bit about how annoying the early morning arrival of the garbage man can be, we actually hear the sound of the truck's loading arm picking up and inverting a dumpster--then repeatedly banging it against the top of the truck "like he's got one gooey tissue lodged up in the corner of the dumpster and he's going to dislodge that if it's the last thing he does before 5 a.m."

A high-energy comic with an off-the-wall approach, Rockwell says his knack for making weird noises is "just something that occurred naturally for me."

"I never tried to develop it," he said in a phone interview from his home in Santa Monica. "I can remember being in school as a kid and we had a substitute teacher who opened and closed the window about 15 times during class because I kept doing this bird sound. Then we'd get hot and she'd open it three minutes later and I'd start in with the bird sound again. Everybody in the class knew what was going on except her."

A Pittsburg native who majored in health and physical education at Penn State, Rockwell has been doing comedy for 12 years. Among his credits are playing private eye Lance Boyle in "The Killer Tomatoes Strike Back," portraying a Russian in a recent AM-PM Mini Mart commercial and telling jokes for 30 hours and three minutes in 1982, thus earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for "longest continuous comedy routine."

On stage, Rockwell is an engaging performer who hasn't lost the streak of ham that prompted his classmates to vote him Class Clown in his senior year of high school.

"I think a lot of people come to the show because they want to forget about things. And, damn it, I'm there to help them," he said. "My philosophy in a nutshell is I'll do just about anything legal to make people laugh."

Rockwell's the kind of comic who makes his stage entrance looking as sneaky as a cat burglar and, without saying a word for several minutes, proceeds to portray a safe cracker up to his evening's work: He mimics the sound of turning the safe lock's tumblers and the sound of the creaky safe door, followed by, "So how do you like my opening?"

"The bit seemingly takes forever and people don't know where I'm going with it and that's what makes it kind of fun," said Rockwell, noting that his creaky safe door "has evolved into one of my better sounds--if there is such a thing as sound evolution. . . . We might be getting a little too heavy here."

Rockwell is also known for his offbeat musings, such as: "I was going to open my own restaurant on the moon. But I was afraid the word would get out that we had great food but no atmosphere."

Lately, though, he finds himself "getting more and more into observational comedy. For instance, I was in the Price Club the other day--this is a true story--and a man was in the check-out line with a gallon of vodka and a three-pack of BVDs. And I'm thinking, This guy must be expecting one hell of a Dodger game. . . . Either that or vodka affects him differently than it does me. Why would you drink something that requires you to buy underwear every time?"

More Rockwell observations:

* "My favorite competitor at the winter Olympics was the silver medalist women's figure skater Midori Ito. She has the flattest face I've ever seen on a human being. She could bite a wall."

* "I saw (singer) Jane Child on MTV with not only a ring in her nose but chains connecting it to the ring in her ear. That's pretty gross. But then I thought, 'You know, I do lose my car keys a lot.' "

One of the comic's current routines sums up Rockwellian humor at its best.

After telling the crowd, "I really should suck up to this audience more," he says with mock show-biz sincerity: "You cats are beautiful. Hey, man, there's a lot of love in this room."

After pausing, Rockwell looks at the audience and says, "Sammy Davis Jr. Is he still dead?"

That line typically elicits a combination laugh and groan, to which Rockwell counters:

"Oh, right, like the IRS isn't trying to revive him right now. He owes them a lot of money. They're trying to bring him back for one more tour."

Then he mimics electronically shocking Sammy back to life.

"Clear!" Bzzzz.

"Who can take the sunshine . . . "

"Clear!" Bzzzz.

" . . . sprinkle it with dew. . . . "

"Clear!" Bzzzz.

"I knew a man, Bojangles . . ."

Laughs Rockwell: "That's my favorite joke right now. There are distinct jokes you do and you get the biggest kick out of it because you created it and you wonder what were you thinking?"

Who: Rick Rockwell.

When: Thursday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 30, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 28, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 29, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.

Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn left on State College Boulevard and right on Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.

Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

Where to call: (714) 529-7878.

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