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HE ONLY HAS EYES FOR YOU : Vic Dunlop Wears Many Hats, but Onstage There's Only One Visual Holdover From His Prop Days

January 27, 1994|GLENN DOGGRELL | Glenn Doggrell writes about comedy for The Times Orange County Edition

When Vic Dunlop gave up being a prop comedian for the more socially acceptable pure stand-up gig, it wasn't a decision he labored over. The choice was pretty much made for him.

"Some people will say they wanted to grow. Hell, I didn't care," the comedian said, sitting behind his desk at his Sun Valley home, which took a little beating during the recent earthquake. (Sun Valley is near Burbank.)

"About 10 years ago, I was working the Comedy Castle in Detroit. I was doing two shows, and between shows I set my prop bag down and someone stole my props."

Left propless, Dunlop was nervous about the second performance, but it went fine. "It was actually easier and I got to talk more. The worst part was I didn't have any eyes to sell after the second show."

At the time, Dunlop's bag of tricks included a "Bonanza" map, several hats, a Frisbee, a turban and the stash of plastic, bloodshot eyes that he sold after his sets. Opening the Detroit show was Tim Allen, who has since turned in his caveman shtick for a nicer den on his ABC sitcom.

"I don't want to say anything," Dunlop continued, "and I'm not saying Tim Allen took them, but I did see a man, grunting, running away. But if Tim still has (the props), I'd like them back."

Because of their money-making value, the crazy eyes were the only props Dunlop kept in his act. Toward the end of his show, the portly comic pops in the eyes and suggests several uses for them. (Discouraging hitchhikers is just one.)

"All day Monday, they're doing 10 minutes of my act. But I don't care. It's more publicity for me," he said, laughing, as he did through much of the interview.

Padding around his office in a green golf shirt and gray slacks set off by red tennis shoes, Dunlop preferred to talk freely, and as much as he could, about where he sees his niche in comedy's future.

Dunlop takes out his bloodshot eyes long enough to look at the big picture. He is squarely focused on the much-ballyhooed information superhighway, when televisions, telephones, computers, databases and cable systems are all supposed to collide into instant communications.

"With the information superhighway coming, I want to be the one to distribute product. There's a marketability in comedy product such as Louie Anderson's books or cassettes dealing with comics' early live stand-up routines, the hidden tapes. These are no buzzer-on-the-hand novelty items. It would be a collection of classic stuff."

To get the word out, Dunlop sees infomercials as his link to the future.

"Infomercials are now huge, but they are intensely boring. I'm going to add entertainment to the boring."

By using technology, fresh ideas and some old-fashioned hucksterism, Dunlop sees good things happening.

"Clubs are kind of red-lining out. This will help keep the clubs alive," he said, bemoaning how some club owners' myopic tendencies keep them focusing only on the door and not on the big picture window. "The target is to keep comedy alive, bring it into the future."

His main venture is Komedy VideoCards, a five-minute video that comes with two passes to just about any comedy club in the country.

Currently, he has five video greeting cards you can punch into the VCR to commemorate someone's going over the hill, having a birthday or getting well. You can also tell someone you hate them or love them for $9.95, suggested retail price.

Dunlop, whose wife, Linda, refers to him as a capitalistic hippie, is also working on getting Louie Anderson, Jim (Ernest) Varney and Judy Tenuta (for an astro-illogical card). He's also working on a 3D animated card.

Dunlop started shifting his energies when he noticed the comedy boom of the '80s was slowing down and clubs across the nation were closing.

"I've been on the road 18 years, and I'm not the young stud I used to be," said Dunlop, who worked clubs about 25 weeks last year but will cut down in '94. I don't want to hang on forever. I want to create my own destiny and help other comics."

He's also working with CD/Rom, to get comedy into computers. And he's always looking for financing--to make more VideoCards or develop "One of These Days," a recessionary sitcom akin to the old "Honeymooners."

Dunlop has been working on such projects for about three years, but didn't consider himself official until he opened a bank account six months ago.

"This is my next step in comedy. With the Improv group, I've reached my level," Dunlop said, referring to his headlining status with that chain and other top comedy clubs.

Dunlop, who gave his age in muffled, barely audible tones as fortysomething, got into comedy a few years after returning from the Vietnam War in 1971.

It probably didn't hurt that his father, Vic Dunlop Sr., was an old character actor. But the seeds were planted much earlier.

"I was a fat guy who went to Catholic school for 13 years. That's already two marks against you."

In 1976, he started Natural Gas, a skit-based troupe that spent two years as the comic relief on "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert."

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