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COMEDY : His Jokes Are All in the Family : Religion, Marriage and Cashews Flavor Marty Cohen's Work

March 18, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly writes about comedy for OC Live!

Marty Cohen is a comic with a fast-paced delivery that's reminiscent of the old-school comics he grew up watching in the '60s when he'd beg his parents to let him stay up to watch Don Rickles, Alan King and Buddy Hackett on "The Tonight Show."

Speaking to him by phone from his home in Westlake, you can almost hear the rim-shots as he discusses his act.

"I talk about my ever-burgeoning family," said Cohen, who's headlining at Bruce Baum's Comedy Crib in Fullerton through Sunday. He's Jewish, he said, his wife is Catholic, "the kids are cashews."

Actually, Cohen said he and his wife are raising their four children in the Catholic religion, although that creates some confusion: "At Christmas we sing 'Oy vey Maria. ' "

Cohen said his act includes "a lot about the difficulty of being a parent--about how nobody gives you a manual. You buy a car, you get a manual. You buy a videotape machine, you get a manual. You have a baby they say, 'Here . . . .' "

Other parents are jealous, he said. "My eldest boy was sleeping through the night at 5 weeks old. I think the Valium was helping."

Cohen, whose act covers everything from family life and religion to men and women and current events, said he doesn't so much sit down and write material as he incorporates bits and lines that make him laugh in everyday life.

"I just try things," he said, "like I was looking in the mirror thinking, just sort of reflecting. . . ."

Summing up his brand of humor, Cohen said: "It's just jokes; I tell jokes. The idea is the audience comes in, they're entertained and when they leave they just know they had fun."

The Oakland-born comic is a 20-year veteran whose credits include the old "Make Me Laugh" comedy-game show, "Hollywood Squares" and opening for everyone from Jay Leno to Debbie Reynolds.

Unlike his casually dressed peers on the comedy club scene, Cohen always appears on stage sharply dressed in coat and tie. (And in Vegas, natch, he wears a tux.)

"I just grew up believing that in show-biz people wear fancy schmancy; I just feel it's out of respect for the audience," he said. "To me it would be very disappointing if I were to sit down and see someone perform in a T-shirt and jeans: I can see that in my house."

Besides, he said, "I'm just not a kid any more; I'm not a hippie. If you're spectacularly famous, you can pretty much go naked. But when you're not that famous you've got to make an impression on the audience."

First impressions are also important in the comedy biz.

Cohen recalls once waiting to go on stage when he saw a huge vat of unpopped popcorn and shoved a handful in his mouth. After being introduced, he waved and smiled at the audience without opening his mouth. Then, as he started to speak, he let the popcorn kernels fly as he said:

"Good evening. I'm Orville Redenbacher."

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