YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


'Only Kidding' Takes a Serious Look at Comics

Jim Geoghan's play delves into the life of a stand-up in the late '80s, when the goal was to appear on the 'Tonight Show.'


There is nothing static about the world of stand-up comedy. Like everything else, it goes through changes. That's part of the point of playwright Jim Geoghan's "Only Kidding," opening Friday night at Studio City's Lionstar Theatre Stage II.

Geoghan, now writer-producer for ABC-TV's "Family Matters," was a New York stand-up comedian for nine years and knows the territory.

The play has gone through several incarnations. The first version premiered during a mid-1980s one-act festival sponsored by the then Los Angeles Actors Theatre. The following year Geoghan wrote another one-act about stand-ups for the festival, then tied them together with a common dramatic thread. The final result, "Only Kidding," played for a year off-Broadway, and the production had a successful run at L.A.'s Odyssey Theatre.

The play, which will be directed by Peter Grego, who also guided Actors Alley's recent "The Killing of Sister George," describes a comic's world that ended a decade ago. In those days, being a stand-up was a final goal, not a mere stepping-stone to the small screen.

Raymond Lynch, who portrays one of the comics in the play, says that today's stand-up comedy is vastly different from what it was during the period of the show, from 1986 to 1989.

"A lot of it today," Lynch said, "is just slick, facile observation, which is charming at best. But where is that big belly-laugh we would see, and remember, from the old times? I wonder if all these comedians are just shooting for television?

"There should be something more for them. They just get thrown on a show, and then they're gone. You can't remember the names of these people who had their three weeks, or 10 weeks, or whatever."

In the period covered by the play, a comedian's ultimate goal was to appear on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, which is where the comics in the play wind up.

Lynch's character, said director Grego, is a traditional comic who could have come out of vaudeville.

"Eventually," said Grego, "he realizes that in the world for which he's performing, his comedy has to come from somewhere deeper in himself. There has to be honesty, and vulnerability, an adjustment to the times . . . "

Grego said he prefers to call the play a drama about comedy rather than a comedy about comedians. Though one-liners are scattered throughout the show, it is a serious study of the evolvement of the comic mind.

Lynch elaborated:

"Geoghan is speaking," he said, "about an artist hanging in there. You just have to keep on doing it. If it's something you love, it doesn't matter how many years go by. It doesn't matter if you make it or not, because it's the journey that's important. If you stay on that journey, your life will change."

* "Only Kidding," Lionstar Theatre Stage II, 12655 Ventura Blvd. (above Jerry's Deli), Studio City. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 11. $10. (213) 660-TKTS.


In the Nose: Comedy of another sort is giving a new twist to a theatrical staple at Kent Skov's L.A. Connection beginning Saturday at the group's Comedy Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

In an era when many avant-garde directors take pleasure in deconstructing classic works and reconstructing them to their own purposes, Skov is taking one of theater's venerable classics, Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac"--the film version--and, along with a troupe of improv actors, twisting it in outrageous directions.

As the L.A. Connection crew has done with other films and television shows, they are screening the movie, having deleted the soundtrack, written their own story, and provided live improvised dialogue.

Here Cyrano is out of work, and can't keep a job when he gets one. His dumb friend Wendell (Christian in the play and film) can't communicate with women, so he and Cyrano start a dating service. Enter the object of their affections, Roxanne, as a client. Rostand might be spinning in his grave, but he's probably also chuckling.

Skov's company is best known for its versions of such films as "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman" and "Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy." But improvising a new script for a classic is an entirely different matter.

Why a drama like "Cyrano?"

"It lends itself to parody," Skov says, "because Cyrano himself is such a great character. . . . The dramatic films, and the slightly overplayed dramatic films are right for what we do."

* "Cyrano de Bergerac," L.A. Connection Comedy Theatre, 13442 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Ends Sept. 7. $10. (818) 784-1868.

Los Angeles Times Articles