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SOMETIMES IT'S A STRETCH : But If It Gets a Laugh, Nothing's Too Ridiculous for Denny Johnston

June 24, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly writes about comedy for OC Live!

Denny Johnston has a 2-month-old baby daughter, but don't expect the veteran stand-up comic to be doing baby jokes during his headlining gig at Bruce Baum's Comedy Crib in Fullerton this week.

As anyone who has watched him perform over the past two decades knows, Johnston's highly visual act consists of a silly assortment of impressions, bits with his guitar and prop comedy. Lots of prop comedy.

Which is why he's so excited about the return of Stretch Armstrong.

You remember Armstrong--that plastic doll whose goo-filled limbs could be stre-e-e-e-e-tched every which way.

The doll was a staple of Johnston's act until the Kenner toy company stopped producing it about 15 years ago. Now it's back on the market, thanks to Cap Toys of Cleveland, and Johnston couldn't be happier.

"I did this bit called 'Peter Lorre as a Kid During Christmas,' " he said, explaining that he'd "get all excited" as the menacingly sinister Lorre unwrapped the doll on stage:

"Oh, thanks Mom and Dad. I can hardly wait to see what it is-- Oh-h-h, Stretch Armstrong! Welcome to my home Mr. Armstrong. I understand that you like to be stretched. Well, prepare to be stretched more than you've ever been stretched before."

Speaking by phone from his home in La Quinta last week, Johnston said he went through a lot of Stretch Armstrong dolls over the years.

"They'd rip under the arm and stuff like that, but now Cap Toys says they're making them stronger," he said. "I'm so excited because I've been doing this bit now for a week and half and just killing again."

Spotted frequently on the local comedy scene in the late '70s--when the Laff Stop in Newport Beach was the comedy scene in Orange County--Johnston, 47, was a regular on the old "Make Me Laugh" TV show. Additional credits include "The Tonight Show," "Late Night With David Letterman," and "The Arsenio Hall Show."

Comedy Crib audiences can expect him to be as offbeat as ever.

"I do Walter Brennan as Jason in 'Friday the 13th,' so that's a pretty weird combination," Johnston said.

He also does an impression of a country singer he calls Roy Earl.

"This is my parody of the country-Western singers of yesterday. Now you've got the beautiful female country singers and the real handsome male country singers. With this guy, I've got these teeth my brother made me; he's a dentist, and they're really bad-looking teeth."

As Earl, Johnston sings a song called "I Got Dog Doo on the Carpet of My Girlfriend's Car."

Then there are the vintage Johnston bits: Jack Nicholson as a kiddy show host, John Wayne as a stand-up comic. ("Here's another little joke for ya. What's the only advantage to having Alzheimer's disease? You can hide your own Easter eggs.")

And, of course, there's Johnston's classic Sgt. Savage routine, in which he portrays a gay Marine drill instructor, who wears a pink helmet and mincingly whines to his troops, "Oh, it's so hot today, we can't exercise."

Johnston, a onetime Los Angeles house painter and songwriter, said Sgt. Savage is the first comedy piece he ever wrote back in the early '70s.

"I've tried to dump that bit out of my act several times and I get so much flak for it I put it back in," he said, recalling that "one time, 40 Marines and their wives caravaned down from L.A. to Newport Beach to see that bit (at the Laff Stop) and it wasn't in my act and they were so ticked off. They stayed after the show and made me do it before I could leave the premises."

Johnston said there's "nothing sexual about this gay Marine guy; he's just real effeminate. It's not meant to offend anyone. It's just meant to entertain people."

He sums up that and his other material this way: "It's just bizarre, real stupid humor. You don't have to think to watch my act."

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