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Overton Draws on CNN for Big Picture

March 31, 1994|GLENN DOGGRELL | Glenn Doggrell writes about comedy for The Times Orange County Edition.

When actor-comedian Rick Overton takes time off from the daily grind, he likes to ride motorcycles, the horsepower-stuffed ones such as his Harley-Davidson FLT or his Kawasaki 750. So it's no surprise that the vignette best exemplifying Overton's stand-up style would be a motorcycle tale.

A few years ago, the North Hollywood resident decided to see how much he loved riding by embarking on a six-day cross-country trip. In the Midwest, however, things got sticky.

"It was amazing. Weather was at my back the whole way," he said, referring to the ever-threatening skies. "In the motels, I'd watch the Weather Channel to see where that dark blue, watch-your-ass blob was. I was averaging 90 to 100 m.p.h. through some points to stay ahead of it."

And that pretty much sums up his routine. He likes to keep one step ahead of what's happening, or going to happen.

"My act is like a high-speed roller-coaster ride through social events, which hopefully makes you laugh and think," he said from home in a phone interview earlier this week. "My style is more to look at the bigger picture. For instance, my head. I'm following the rings of my hair loss, and they're moving at the same rate as the hole in the ozone layer (and the deforestation of the rain forest). I've worked it all out on paper. My head is directly tied in to the environment."

Overton, who plays Standing Room Only in Fullerton through Sunday, also grumbles about the much-ballyhooed information superhighway as a bad marriage of too much data and too much technology. Even something as simple as the convenience of cashless tollbooths has him seeing Big Brother.

At first blush, he says, it's kind of cool just having a bar code scanned as you go through and not having to worry about having a quarter to toss into the basket.

"But think," he continues, "they know where you are. You're probably showing up on a huge (tracking) map somewhere."

To find his material, the 21-year stand-up veteran doesn't have to look far.

"I just watch CNN. The jokes write themselves," he said, adding that anywhere from 30% to 50% of his hourlong sets is of the political-topical variety.

The Manhattan native, who spends a week or two each month on the road doing comedy, was exposed early to Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, who would open for a jazz quartet led by Overton's father, the late composer Hall Overton.

The musical lineage, however, didn't rub off, and a teen-aged Overton headed into acting and comedy in 1972, taking the topical nature of Bruce and Sahl with him.

"As a struggling actor in New York, one way to be seen was to do comedy," he explained.

In 1973, he formed a comedy team whose act included sketches, routines and quick thinking. He did that for five years.

"I still like to take an idea and riff on it, like verbal jazz. When I get bored, I like to do improv."

When not riding or doing comedy, he keeps busy looking for film roles. His credits include "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Groundhog Day," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Airplane 2."

Last summer, he played a knight in "High Crusade," which is waiting to be distributed in the United States. It's about a bunch of knights who manage to seize an alien ship in 1300s England.

"The worst thing you could give those nitwit knights was a high-tech alien spaceship," Overton quipped.

On TV, he has been seen on NBC's "Seinfeld" and Fox's "The Edge," "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Babes." He was also part of "Comic Relief" this year.

"Peter Sellers is my hero. He did lead character work, riding his ability to make you laugh. That's been my dream."

He would prefer to concentrate on such roles, but he knows that less-than-ideal parts pay the rent. It's a constant balancing act.

"It's tough, but at the same time, you have to plan and be strategic. The pure actor in me says, 'I hate this role.' But the agent part of me says, 'You have to do it.' "

Who: Rick Overton.

When: Tonight, March 31, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2, at 8 and 10:15 p.m.; and Sunday, April 3, at 8 p.m.

Where: Standing Room Only, 126 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: From the Riverside (91) Freeway, take Harbor Boulevard north, turn left onto Orangethorpe and left again into the first driveway at the Fullerton Metro Center. The club is to the left.

Wherewithal: $8 to $10.

Where to call: (714) 870-4400.

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