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HE HAS A NOSE FOR LAUGHS : Mark Pitta, Headlining at Irvine Improv, Built Routine on His Nasal Appendage

August 12, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Mark Pitta has made a change, but it's not in his bright, upbeat approach to comedy, which remains intact. It's his new nose.

"I'm spotlighting my nose," Pitta said of a "Tonight Show" appearance that was scheduled for Wednesday, his first since he had plastic surgery earlier this year.

Pitta, who headlines through Sunday at the Irvine Improv, jokes candidly about his decision, saying he decided his nasal appendage was tooooo big after watching himself on video, interviewing sports fans for a Bay Area cable channel.

"I watched it in disbelief," he said by phone from his home in Studio City. "It was literally the fan and my nose." The camera operator, he claims, kept zooming in tighter on the fan to crop Pitta's nose out of the frame.

Nose job notwithstanding, Pitta isn't your typically self-obsessed comic. "My act is pretty much guy-next-door kind of stuff," he said. "People have told me that when I get on stage, they think they went to high school with me. I'm very approachable."

Pitta isn't big on deep messages--he'd rather just entertain--but if there is something he'd like to tell his audiences, it's this: "We can still act silly and not be condemned for it." He laments the fact that as people grow up, they feel they have to stifle their love for practical jokes.

It's a tendency Pitta aims to fight, with a string of suggested jokes he details in his act. The next time you're in a bar, for instance, and you make awkward eye contact with a stranger, just hold up your glass and mouth the words, "Thank you."

In the news recently, there have been reports of videotape renters taping sexually explicit scenes over sections of family films. Pitta prefers to do it the other way around, taping "The Wizard of Oz" over X-rated films in a stab at confusing the next renter ("When is this Dorothy chick going to get naked?").

Pitta was a host of the Fox series "Totally Hidden Video" for two years before it was canceled in 1992. Though he wasn't able to perform much of his own material on the show, he says it was a good boost for his career. These days, he appears frequently on the Comedy Central cable network, which gives him the opportunity to do something he takes a perverse pleasure in: turning himself off.

"It's one of my favorite times. I'll be flipping channels and there I am, telling jokes. And I'll flick it off."

His act might include anything he thinks is funny that hits him. His Catholic upbringing sparked this one-liner: "Here's something you'll never hear at Catholic school: 'Hey, what are you wearing tomorrow?' "

Following in the footsteps of other headliners, Pitta is developing a one-man show. He isn't going to make any pretense of shaping a theatrical performance, though; he's just going to tell "every joke I've ever written."

What's more, he's going to tell them chronologically. He even plans to have a "ring girl" ( a la boxing events) carry cards across the stage telling the vintage of each section of the show.

Pitta remembers asking a fellow comedian about the long-running one-man show by Rick Reynolds, which is credited with starting the trend.

"He told me, 'He wears a suit and he cries.' If he cries, apparently that makes it a one-man show."

His own show will be "fun and games."

"I'm not a neurotic comic. I hate comedians with a message. I mean, I just want to make people laugh."

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