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Emery Emery's Not Afraid of the Dark : Angry Young Comic Says 'There Is No Line for Me,' So There's No Telling What He'll Do


COSTA MESA — Comic Emery Emery recalls sitting on a rooftop in Austin, Tex., on the recent Fourth of July and, as the fireworks were bursting, remarking to a friend, "I don't feel free."

Lack of freedom--from restrictions on speech to rules and laws governing other arenas of behavior--makes Emery angry, and anger is what fuels his act.

"We're not free. We can't do what we want," the comic said, during an interview in a restaurant here. "Censorship is rampant in our country."

Emery, who performs tonight at the Coach House with Frances de Lorenzo, Kivi and Mark Mabray, had a run-in last year at a club he was playing in Seattle. The owner fired him over Emery's use of a racial epithet.

It was the word itself, and not the context, that bothered the owner. Emery was illustrating a story about a comedy club owner in Mississippi who used the word in requesting some jokes about blacks (Emery's response, in the routine: "So would it be OK if I did some fat backwoods inbreed cracker jokes?").

Emery had drawn a complaint with the routine while performing it at the Last Laugh Comedy Club in Portland, and dropped it for the rest of the week at the request of management. When he restored the bit to his act when he moved to the Last Laugh chain's club in Seattle, he was fired.

"It's insane, it's just insane. I don't know what that guy was thinking," Emery said. "I had been doing that bit 3 1/2, four years" without a problem.

"I don't even close with a joke any more. I close with a statement" about censorship.

Racism and homophobia are among the subjects of Emery's comic vitriol.

Lest anyone think he's a sensitive guy whose only mission is to defend liberty and justice for all, he's also just as likely to do a joke about pedophilia, or vent anger about his divorce. The comic doesn't worry much about crossing any lines: "There is no line for me, so there's no telling" what he'll do.

Emery's dark, edgy approach to comedy developed over time. When he started doing open-mike nights in Kansas City, Mo., (where he was raised) about nine years ago, he was covering the standard stand-up topics, from fast food to slow drivers. For the first couple of years, Emery was, by his own admission, "unbearable."

He eventually got better, and then about four years ago his material started taking an edgier tone, inspired to a large degree by comedy's prince of darkness, Bill Hicks.

"I started letting my anger dictate my material," Emery said. "The first angry topic I covered was my divorce."

At first, he was skeptical about how the new material would go over on stage but was always pleasantly surprised. "I would write things that were dark, dirty, edgy," Emery said. "I had no idea it would work."

The comic was born in Southern California but moved to Kansas City as an infant. Emery Emery is his real name--in fact, he'd be Emery Emery II, but his father changed his own first name to Bob.

Emery returned to California two years ago, first living in Arcadia before moving to Costa Mesa last year.

He did not make the move for show business reasons, he said: "For whatever reason, I've always wanted to come out here. If I were selling cars, I'd be here."

In fact, Emery is one comedian who says he has no desire to do a sitcom ("I'm not an actor, I'm a comic") or even to do the usual spate of cable-TV comedy showcases ("Those shows are helping to kill live comedy"). That doesn't mean he'd say no if the right gig came along.

"I'll keep at this until I get a Letterman or an HBO special," he said. Currently, he tours about 40 weeks out of the year. When he plays Southern California, he'll usually do Igby's Comedy Cabaret in West L.A. or the Ice House in Pasadena.

Tonight's Coach House show is one of Emery's rare gigs in his adopted home of Orange County. He occasionally did shows at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach before it became a topless joint ("That's blasphemy," Emery said), but his show is a bit too blue for the Improv chain.

"Chains stay away from what I do," Emery said. "If you're not established, and do what I do, that place (the Improv) won't give you a chance."

Emery is not pleased with the current state of comedy, not only in the cookie-cutter quality of the material but in the profession's esprit de corps .

"There's no camaraderie," he said. "There's no argument about what's right or wrong to do."

* Emery Emery performs tonight at 9 p.m. with Frances de Lorenzo, Kivi and Mark Mabray at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $10. (714) 496-8930.

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