No one who saw the hit movie "Ghost" will forget the ruthless lowlife who emerged from the shadows to kill Patrick Swayze on the streets of New York. It wasn't exactly the kind of role you'd expect from a stand-up comic.
But for Rick Aviles, a Puerto Rican comedian from New York's Lower East Side, the character was irresistible.
As the raspy-voiced former street comic says in his act, his first reaction to hearing about the "Ghost" script was, "You mean I get to kill Patrick Swayze and slap Demi Moore? Lemme see that!"
In fact, he's still a bit awed by it.
"I can't believe they cast me as a killer," Aviles said by phone from his home in Los Angeles last week. "I mean, I'm a comedian. Why don't they cast other comedians as killers?"
He'd love to see Bill Cosby as a killer, he says, breaking into an on-the-money impression of the Cos: "I shot her because she didn't eat the Jell-O pudding."
Aviles, who's headlining at the Irvine Improv through Sunday, acknowledges that his "Ghost" appearance gave his stand-up career a boost.
"Any kind of movie exposure does," he said. "I'm trying to get agents to bill me as the Killer Comic!"
That would be an appropriate tag. Aviles has been killing audiences since the mid-'70s, when he began performing stand-up in Washington Square, Central Park and other New York City locales. The street, where he said he would often make $200 a day passing the hat, is where the one-time printer and salesman honed his comedy style and developed his strong stage presence.
These days, he wears flashy designer clothes on stage topped off with his trademark black pork pie hat or a fedora. But Aviles hasn't lost his streetwise sensibility in a distinctly urban-flavored act which he acknowledges is hard to pigeonhole.
"I'd call it a melange because I do impressions, I do characters, I do observations," he explained. "I also do skits, reality comedy and off-the-wall" humor.
A master of dialects, thanks to growing up in New York's City's "melting pot," Aviles is just as likely to slip into an Irish accent as he is Italian or East Indian. His routine on drug dealers even includes an old Jewish man selling marijuana out of a pushcart: "Vat do you mean, dat's not an ounce? Dis is an ounce, mister!'
His sometimes-racy act also includes a lewd reading of the old Dick and Jane school primer and a bit on dating outside his ethnic background.
Aviles, whose credits include hosting NBC's "It's Showtime at the Apollo" and starring in an HBO "One Night Stand" special, now chooses routines that are more universal than urban. In fact, he said, he recently returned from performing in Amsterdam, where "I was making people laugh in their second language and they were screaming."
The street-bred comic expects the same results in yuppie-tinged Irvine.
"Don't let the streetwise (stuff) fool you," he said. "Because of the success I've had, I'm probably just as yuppie as the people there. I'm a stone-cold businessman. I call my broker. I got investments and other things. . . .
"I might even be more yuppie than some of them. "