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NIGHT LIFE / DOUG FERRARI

Big on Laughs : After nearly a decade on the road, the comedy veteran is ready to conquer the Southland in search of his first big break.

November 26, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He's big. He's loud. He'd scare your cat. He's got enough energy to give the Edison Company the month off. He's the Fuehrer of Fun, Doug "Dougzilla" Ferrari, the Bay Area funny guy who will be headlining the Comedy Connection at Hornblower's in Ventura this weekend.

How funny is he? Well, he did win the San Francisco Comedy Competition in 1984. Other winners include Robin Williams and Dana Carvey.

Linebacker-sized Ferrari first appeared in the mid-70s with those legendary Bay Area wise guys, the High Wire Radio Choir, from San Jose. Former Venturan Kevin Aspell was a founding member of the group, along with Ray Hanna and Larry Hansen.

Since the group went away in the early '80s, Ferrari has been a stand-up road dog, headlining well over 150 comedy clubs from sea to shining sea. He's been on every comedy show on every network, and shared the stage with a zillion rock acts from John Lee Hooker to Ray Charles to Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon. Ferrari has hosted three Bay Area Music Awards shows where, he said, "kids in black rock 'n' roll shirts even boo John Fogerty."

Ferrari has a lot of stories to tell:

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You've been on the bill with the likes of Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Hammer and Bob Hope. Who had the most free beer backstage?

I don't know--they wouldn't let me in their dressing rooms. Actually Sun Ra had the most beer backstage. I met Bob Hope backstage at an Earthquake Benefit show in 1989 and I offered him a joke, something like, "It's a pleasure to be here because I was at the 1906 earthquake." He should've used it because he didn't get a laugh with his own material. Later, we were doing a photo shoot backstage of all the comedians on the bill, and Hope tells me, "Whoa, you better kneel down in front of me." And I said, "I don't need the gig that bad, Bob." And everyone was saying, "There goes Doug, always saying the wrong thing . . . "

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How did you get started in all this?

There was a children's TV host in the Bay Area in the early '60s named Mayor Art who had a live kid audience and a lot of puppets and did musicals like "The Music Man" and "The Sound of Music." My parents knew I had the show business bug but wouldn't let me go on the show. They always encouraged me to go into writing. Little do they know how much money I've made, but I've blown it all. My first stand-up gig was at the Comedy Store in L.A. when Sammy Shore still owned it. I came on at five minutes till two and they were sweeping the stage around me.

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How often do you change your material?

Most comics don't change their act at all, and they're lucky. I've got six hours of material. I still do some of the first jokes I ever wrote, but nobody ever counts seniority or volume. What counts is a vibe, a feeling, a likability. You're not a failure until you've been rejected by everyone and you die. My goal is not to end up like the Billy Crystal character, Buddy Young. But to get back to your question, no doors have ever opened for me just because I have six hours of material.

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What's the difference between rock 'n' roll and comedy?

Well, I always show up. I think I'd like to have a tape or some T-shirts to sell--I should've made a mailing list. I've played in, oh, 40 states; I've done Guam, the Caribbean. The difference between comedy and music is that we never get the groupies. If you're a musician, you meet girls who say, "Hi, my name is Trina and this is my friend Trixie, and we'll see you after the show." For comedians, it's "Hi, my name is Trina and this is my husband, Ed."

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Is there a point where being funny isn't enough?

I've been in this for so long, and I see a lot of people who aren't funny and are just into it to schmooze and they'll probably make it further than me. You don't make it on talent alone. One thing, you never get reviewed in comedy because you never stay in the same location for six weeks. Someone like Tim Allen gets on a hit TV show, but if you're a road warrior, you don't have a chance for a part when you're off in Montana.

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So are comedians on the road as long as some of those blues dudes?

I've been doing 30 weeks a year since 1984. I've only opened for one other comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. I'll tell you, it doesn't do much for a seven-year relationship with a woman.

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Tell me about the San Francisco Comedy Competition.

Well, Robin Williams lost the first year because he went overtime. When I won in 1984, the prize was five grand. You see comics at their worst; I've seen guys attack the judges. The guy who came in second never talked to me again. He was more bitter than George Bush.

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How did the High Wire Radio Choir prepare you or ruin you for what followed?

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