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SPINNING YARNS INTO GOLD : Pat Hazell Takes Swat at the Simple Things by Finding What's Amusing in the Everyday

March 04, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER: Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly writes about comedy for OC Live!

As a comic with a penchant for talking about everyday things, Pat Hazell can find creative fodder in a trip to the grocery store or killing flies.

Hazell, who is headlining at the Irvine Improv through Sunday, is an imaginative comedian whose act includes observations on everything from how we "wrestle with the last piece of ice in a plastic cup" to the fly swatter, "the one thing that separates men and women because women do no like the fly swatter. Fly-swatting is a male-dominated sport."

Speaking by phone from his home in Studio City last week, Hazell described his act as escapism.

"It's like having the funny boy next door come over," he said, adding that, unlike some stand-up comics, he doesn't intimidate an audience. "They're not put off or afraid of me. It's like having lunch with somebody who cracks you up or something, and they allow me a lot of freedom to change subjects or do whatever I want."

The boyish-looking Hazell's forte, however, is conjuring up childhood memories. In one signature piece on those "little green army men," he strikes the classic poses of the plastic warriors and invites the audience to identify them:

"Bayonet guy! . . . Infantry guy!--you don't recognize him right away because normally his gun's bent around the corner."

Hazell developed his easygoing way and confidence in front of an audience as a teen-ager growing up in Omaha, where he started doing sleight-of-hand magic and juggling at children's parties.

"As soon as there was an opportunity I took those routines on stage and sort of changed them into comedy routines," said Hazell, whose first outing as a stand-up comic came when he was a senior in high school. He began "going to these bars where I wasn't supposed to be, opening for bands and things like that."

Hazell, who has been doing stand-up for a decade, has been known for much of his career as a comedian/magician. But, he said, during the past four or five years he has been gradually eliminating most of the magic in his act.

He said he was inspired to change directions by his peers.

Foremost was Jerry Seinfeld, for whom he opened several years ago. Hazell's delivery is reminiscent of Seinfeld's, and Hazell occasionally contributed material to the comedian's act. He also worked as a writer on the first four episodes of the hit "Seinfeld" TV series, for which he currently does the studio audience warm-up.

"He'd always say, 'You really don't need all that stuff, all those toys or whatever,' " said Hazell, who discovered that his animated style worked with or without the magic and the props.

Although he's a fan of variety acts, Hazell said, "I found the trick overshadows the personality of the performer, or is more memorable. I found it didn't allow for a lot of growth because then you become like a pop singer: If you weren't playing your hit tunes, then people weren't really interested."

Hazell said his current act includes "some looking back at childhood," a subject he and co-writer Matt Goldman turned into a play, "The Bunk Bed Brothers," in which Hazell co-starred as one of two brothers returning home for a family reunion and reliving the events of their youth in their old bedroom.

The play, which had an eight-week run at the Complex Theater in Los Angeles in 1991, received glowing reviews and was bought by Columbia Pictures. (Hazell and Goldman are currently writing the screenplay.)

But Hazell said his act is not all looking back; there's also current-day material on his girlfriend and taking her to dinner and such.

"It's more observational things, not unlike Seinfeld-esque in regards to things like the pepper guy at the restaurant who comes out with the big pepper mill and does the show for you," he said. "I think they're everyday occurrences. What I try to stay away from is the overloaded areas comics have been into: airlines, 7-Eleven and talking cars."

What he prefers, he said, are "the more unusual" areas that no one else is talking about.

Such as tape measures.

"You don't have to be measuring anything to be thoroughly amused. Put a human being in an empty room with a tape measure and they'll play a game for two hours where they extend it one foot at a time in midair: try to get it across the room before it bends. 'Ah! I don't believe it. I was an inch away from the drape. I'm trying it again.' "

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