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He's Twisted, Distorted and Full of Beans

Television: Writer-director Steve Oedekerk returns to his stand-up roots as a cyber comic in his NBC special.


In a town where people will do anything to get their script noticed--even cajoling therapists they know to pass along a screenplay to one of their studio executive patients--Steve Oedekerk not only gets paid for writing movies but also gets to direct his own work too.

But what the writer-director of "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" and of this summer's "Nothing to Lose," starring Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, really wants to do--or at least do, too--is be the star himself.

"I really miss performing," said Oedekerk, 37, who worked on stage as a stand-up comedian for nearly 15 years before his career took what he calls a "cool left turn" about three years back, branding him solely as "writer-director guy."

So come Wednesday, in what he gleefully labels "a self-indulgent me-fest," Oedekerk will be seen in the self-titled, self-starring, self-written and self-directed hourlong NBC special, ""

"I'm not a guy who is going to start bungee jumping or jumping out of airplanes, because I find it too scary," said Oedekerk, who lives with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in San Juan Capistrano. "But man, put me on a stage with 15 new minutes, and I don't know if it's great or if it sucks--that is the thrill that I love.

"You get some of the charge from directing or writing a feature and sitting back and waiting for the audience to react, but when you're in it too, you're laying out there on a platter. That's my thrill-seeker side."

Besides, he explains, "It just feels comfortable to perform. Part of the whole. If I'm writing something, that means I've pictured it in my head. I know what it looks like, so that means that I'm a good guy to direct it. I've pictured how I want it performed, so I'm the perfect guy to perform it. I think it all fits together. It's not like some people ask me, 'Oh my God, how can you do all those things at once?' It feels more simple to me to do all of it than branching out and wearing just one hat and then hoping, without any control over it, that the other parts mesh together."

In his TV special, Oedekerk portrays a variety of distorted characters. With the help of some cutting-edge computer animation, he performs as his own skeleton, as a cartoon alter-ego who wages war against cute but deadly gigantic space babies, and as the ultimate warrior of the universe, who--in a take-off on all those kung fu computer fight games--never loses because he only battles inept opponents, such as a calculator-throwing accountant.

The show is loud, garish and bizarre--by design. Kids might enjoy the bright images and distortions of the computer effects even if they don't understand some of the wittier, twisted one-liners and situations aimed at adults. Some of those grown-ups may find the whole thing pretty darn obnoxious, but, Oedekerk said, they won't be able to say they've seen anything like it before.

"I was watching TV one night and I thought, 'There isn't a show anywhere that is the kind of comedy that I like to do--this wild, bizarre, all-out comedy,' " Oedekerk said. "And I knew from doing 'Ace' and writing the effects for big gigantic Sherman in 'Nutty Professor' that the technology to do this stuff finally does exist. And writing that kind of visual weird comedy is such a blast."


After growing up watching comedians like Jonathan Winters, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Albert Brooks and Steve Martin--who surprised their audiences with absolute novelty--Oedekerk decided to quit college at 20 to become a comic and make his own movies.

Despite the consternation and skepticism of his parents and others in the "ultra-normal Orange County neighborhood" where he grew up, Oedekerk moved to Hollywood to do stand-up. After about five years, he took all the money he'd made and poured it into an independent film, which he wrote in a week and shot in another two.

"It was a piece of junk," he said, but others liked it and began bidding on it. One day, though, when he went to retrieve his only copy of the movie from a potential buyer who had asked to screen it, he found it missing. Eventually he discovered that the man had literally stolen it and sold it into video overseas.

With no money, big debts and no easy legal recourse, Oedekerk fell into despair. For a week.

"I couldn't believe this happened to me and I was performing stand-up as much as I could to pay back the money I owed, but I had no money for myself," Oedekerk said. "So I'd go to Naugles [a Mexican food chain] every day and eat a 37-cent bean cup. And one day I had an epiphany right there in Naugles. I thought, 'Wait a second. I wanted to make a movie just to learn how to do it; I know how to make a movie now. I'm still able to work at stand-up. And if worse comes to worst, I can survive on 37 cents a day with my little bean cup.' I've never had a bad day since."

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