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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : John Caponera Segues from stand-up to sitcom and finds a barrel of laughs living 'The Good Life'

January 09, 1994|ANNE VILLASENOR | Anne Villasenor is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer

Chicago-native John Caponera never expected to do stand-up. In fact, he really wanted to act. But thanks to that short detour, he's starring in NBC's new show "The Good Life," based, ironically, on his own life as a stand-up.

"In real life, John Bowman is a lot more patient and gives people the benefit of the doubt more than I do," Caponera says about his TV character. "But as far as his integrity and being opinionated, we're very much the same person, and that's one thing I wanted to make sure I brought to the show." Drawing from such favorites as "The Honeymooners," "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Andy Griffith Show," he finds his character a unique blend of that kind of old-fashioned humor.

"At the workplace, I'm like a Ralph Kramden dealing with two Nortons, and the show's a lot like 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' where I work with two crazy people: So much of the laughs and wackiness comes from the workplace. I have my home and family life, and I bridge the gap between the two," he says. "I also think of myself as Andy of Mayberry dealing with a Barney and an Otis. I deal with Drew (Carey) and Monty (TK), and I'm constantly reacting off their shenanigans. Drew Carey and I are best friends on the show, we're partners at work, and we're partners in crime--outside of work. We manage the kids' baseball games together, and we golf together. We're best buddies, so we're like Norton and Kramden a lot, too," he says.

Caponera's career took off at Lewis University in Lockport, Ill., after a 7-minute monologue for a speech class got him an A. And his material, which he called the "Hollywood Celebrity Baseball Game," became a stand-up act he performed at local venues. Eventually he got a job in his hometown of Chicago where he juggled tending bar and stand-up every night. "I would actually go on stage some nights, emcee, and before I brought out the first act, I'd take a drink order from the stage. Then I'd go back, bartend, come back and bring up the next guy as drinks were served because it was just the waitress and me."

In 1985, Caponera moved to Los Angeles to compete in "Star Search's" comedy division and also to pursue his acting career. "I'm glad I did (the comedy) because when my time came, when I got a legitimate shot, I was ready," he says. "I had enough schooling and classes behind me to handle it."

Today the eight-year L.A. resident is acting as originally planned, with the segue from stand-up a much easier one to adjust to. "I think it's a natural transition for a comic to do a sitcom because a sitcom is just a series of laughs inside a situation. If you can deliver a line and stay in character, you're already halfway home," he says. "I think what helped me, though, is that I could also be the straight man too. I didn't have to carry a scene. I can pass the ball and let the other guy roll with it and feel very secure and comfortable with it."

Caponera, AGE, finds it difficult to favor stand-up or acting. "I don't think you can get a bigger high than from doing stand-up, getting that acceptance from a crowd and that control you have over them, but (with acting) there's a different sense of accomplishment when you can carry a scene. You can move people another way in acting than you can in comedy," he says. "I can take a monologue or a scene with someone on stage to an audience in a theater and move them in a certain way that I can't as a stand-up comedian."

And maybe that's why John Caponera's now doing both....and living "The Good Life."

"The Good Life" airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

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