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COMEDY : THE ODD COUPLING : But Success, Mutual Respect Keep Mack & Jamie Together

July 21, 1994|GLENN DOGGRELL | Glenn Doggrell writes about comedy for the Times Orange County Edition.

One's a liberal Northerner and 25-year vegetarian. The other's a conservative Southerner who loves a good steak.

"Mack is a rabid carnivore," Jamie Alcroft said, referring to Mack Dryden, the meat-eating half of the Mack & Jamie comedy team. "He'd actually like a restaurant where you could hunt your meal. If it blinks, I don't eat it. We constantly surprise each other with our stupid opinions."

But just because Dryden sees a meal where Alcroft sees a life form, doesn't mean automatic incompatibility. There's a simple, overriding reason they've been together since linking up in 1978 in Key West.

"We crack each other up. We genuinely find each other funny," Alcroft said in a recent phone interview from his L.A. home. "We've been through a lot together, and we're still together because every step of the way we've met with success. When you look at someone who reminds you of your success, it's easy to be around them." (Given that context, then, Alcroft must certainly have meant it as a compliment when he earlier said his partner looked like a cross between Sting and E.T.)

On stage, their act is as disparate as its creators. They constantly surprise people (and each other). Unfortunately, that sort of variety doesn't lend itself to simple definition. The show is part stand-up, part musical, part parody.

"Being a comedy team makes it difficult for people to package you," Dryden said in a separate phone conversation. "Roseanne was a whiny housewife. Tim Allen a tool guy. It's hard to define us in one line like that. We do something different every two minutes. I'll play a dumb guy and Jamie will be a smart guy. Then I'll be a smart guy and Jamie will be a dumb guy. We'll do something musical, something incredibly slapstick, then something very sophisticated."

All of which makes for an interesting show, which the pair will bring to the Irvine Improv from Friday through Sunday.

The performers started by putting together comedy revues in South Florida before taking on New York City comedy clubs, which led to Los Angeles and two spots on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. That brought them to the attention of Viacom, which offered the pair a chance to write and perform on "Comedy Break," a syndicated show in 1985 and '86.

Unfortunately, "Comedy Break" didn't prove to be their big break, and neither did a movie they were in.

"Back in '85 or '86, we did 'Million Dollar Mystery,' produced by Dino de Laurentis," said Dryden, who later played Scotty the bartender on ABC's "Paradise" series for three seasons starting in 1988.

"We played a couple of bumbling FBI agents. We lost poor Dino about $20 million. As Yogi Berra once said, 'They stayed away in droves.' We were hoping someone would see that."

Dryden was quick to add, however, that the movie's premise might have aided in its demise: It asked viewers to look for clues to solve a mystery and send in their answers, with a chance at winning $1 million. That was too much participation to ask, Dryden concluded. Plus, Alcroft added, the film was marketed as a contest rather than a comedy. (Incidentally, the movie can be seen on Cinemax later this month.)

But rather than lament their time on the cusp (which finds them far from starving), the pair remain busy. Ideally, they'd like to land a TV series, which could lead to movie roles, preferably something more fruitful than "Million Dollar Mystery."

The duo can be heard on the radio, including local spots on KLOS' "5 O'Clock Funnies" and national syndication on about 300 stations through the Premiere Radio Network, an L.A.-based comedy service they've been connected with for about five years.

Individually, Dryden, who has a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Southern Mississippi, concentrates on his writing. He finished two screenplays in the last year.

"I have a producer interested in one," he said. "It's all just talk now. You write things and just hope you get better by doing it."

Alcroft is into voice-overs. If you've seen the popular Whiskas cat-food commercial, he's the little green lovebird's voice. (It is not, he clarifies, a parrot. And its name is not Whiskas. It has no name.)

"Feed your kitties Whiskas," Alcroft began, breaking into what he calls the bird's Eurotrash accent. "They stay healthy and I stay alive."

The pair also plumbs the lucrative corporate convention circuit, which has seen Gillette fly them to Sydney and Nissan take them on a Caribbean cruise.

"We probably do three or four overnighters a month during the season, corporate stuff," said Alcroft, who is married to ice-skating choreographer Sarah Kawahara and has three children. "They pay very well so you only have to do two or three a month. So if CBS calls, you're not on the road."

But they weren't always such responsible homebodies.

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