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COMEDY REVIEW : One Is Not Enough : What is the sound of a guy talking? It doesn't include much laughter if it's John Bowman, who doesn't have the material or presence to carry an evening.


IRVINE — Apparently, comedy clubs will give just about anybody a one-man show these days.

It's hard to come away from John Bowman's solo gig at the Irvine Improv this week with any other conclusion. A solid middle act, sure, or even an average if unexceptional headliner--but Bowman has neither the material nor the presence to carry a show that pushes 90 minutes.

Rick Reynolds started the one-man trend on a high note back in 1990, but it's been largely downhill since then. Now, what began as an experimental blend between comedy and confessional theater has become little more than a way for clubs to save a few bucks on opening comics.

Bowman dug himself a hole early by opening with two aimless, mostly joke-less character bits. One, a white-jacketed hypnotist named Jean-Claude, nearly succeeded in lulling the audience into a real deep sleep. The second, a fringe-shirted country singer named Slim Bowman, at least had a few jokes to tell and a funny song to sing.

By the time Bowman launched into his regular stand-up routine, almost 30 minutes had slipped away, along with all reasonable expectation that any laughs lay ahead.

Bowman's specialty is rambling but amiable shaggy-dog stories that sometimes provoke a chuckle or two, even if they fizzle out just when you think he's closing in on the big finish.

There was one about learning the country two-step ("The only way it could possibly be easier is if it was the one-step. I couldn't do it") that segued into a bit on getting blitzed on tequila, which led to a tall tale about finding himself locked out of his hotel room, naked.

Some of the most personal and human moments in the show came when Bowman fantasized aloud about being big for a day--he's 5-foot-8 and 130 pounds. "No woman has ever looked at me and said, 'Be gentle,' " he said.

Bowman is a likable enough comic, and he manages some nice physical turns. He paced the stage constantly, rarely used the microphone and sometimes strolled into the audience. His freneticism seemed a bit forced at times, but it did help keep things moving.

He closed with a signature routine in which he crosses his arms inside a big baseball jacket, to absurd physical effect. It's not exactly intellectual comedy, but at least it's a good visual gag, and it ended the night with the strongest laughs of the show.

* John Bowman performs through Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday at the Irvine Improv, 4255 Campus Drive. Shows are tonight 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 and 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 8 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday at 8:30 p.m. $7 to $10. (714) 854-5455.

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