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Funny Here, There, Everywhere : Still, U.S. Comic Greg Proops Finds He's Most Appreciated in Britain

April 01, 1998|CYNTHIA KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — American blues musicians, from Muddy Waters on, have been lionized across the Atlantic far more than in their native country. Ditto jazz players such as Sidney Bechet. If Greg Proops' career is any indication, American comedians might be our next hot export.

Proops, who opens a five-night run at the Irvine Improv tonight, finds himself trying to duplicate at home the success he has found overseas.

"I'm trying to get with Satan like everyone else," Proops said during an interview before a recent performance at the Melrose Improv, referring to the TV pilot season that just started in Hollywood. "I'm going out on auditions for sitcoms, talk shows, commercials--any number of soul-decaying activities."

Of his quest to find TV work here, he said, "It's a rejection buffet. Pick up a plate. But I've had things here and there. I'm not living with Gloria Swanson yet or anything."

Unlike the down-and-out screenwriter in the 1950 film "Sunset Blvd.," Proops works steadily in Europe. He and his wife divide their time between apartments in London and Los Angeles.

He's best known for his regular appearances on the British improv show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," which airs locally on Comedy Central on Sundays at 10 a.m. The show features a host and four comedians competing for points by performing skits suggested by the audience. The winner gets the fantastic prize of reading the credits at the end of the show.

"Whose Line" gave Proops his entree into European comedy. Scouts for the show spotted the 38-year-old Phoenix native in 1988 when he was performing in San Francisco with the improv group Faultline. This year marks his 10th with the show, and there is talk of starting an American version, which may involve Proops, hosted by comedian Drew Carey.

*

Proops' sarcastic, irony-laden, take-no-prisoners style has made him a popular fixture on BBC TV and radio and has ensured full bookings at clubs and theaters in Britain.

American audiences have been a tougher sell.

"It's important for the crowd to understand sarcasm [to get] me," he said. "If crowds are super-literal sometimes, you have to kind of break it down for them a little more. 'I don't mean what I'm saying; I'm saying it for effect.'

"Most everybody gets it, but here and there people take things the wrong way. I say, 'Jesus should have been well-armed, because it would have helped,' and people go, 'Hey, he shouldn't have,' and I go, 'Yeah, I know, that would be bad.'

"The [British] will sit through something even if they disagree, which is something we have problems with in this country. Diplomatic dialogue is not our strong suit in America. We seem to react."

Proops says the British sensibility affords him a tremendous range of opportunities.

"There's a broader expectation of what a comic can be" in the United Kingdom, Proops said, adding he's been asked to write articles, such as the American take on soccer ("Only a European would think of hitting a ball going a hundred miles an hour with their head"), participated in an Australian televised debate between comedians on whether ignorance is bliss, and once did all the parts of "The Wizard of Oz" for an English children's radio show.

"All for just being a comic over there," he said. "It's a situation where you're sucked into a million different things."

* Greg Proops performs at the Irvine Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, today and Thursday at 8:30 p.m., Friday at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 8 p.m. $10-$12. (714) 854-5455.

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