Stand-up comedian Craig Shoemaker, best known for his bawdy character the Lovemaster, is now introducing his fans to a decidedly different character: the Diapermaster.
Since his wife, Carolyn, gave birth to their first child last July, Shoemaker has been trying to adjust to the sometimes difficult demands of fatherhood. His domestication is the focal point of 45 new minutes in his stand-up act .
"Now I have the dad voice," said the Los Angeles-based comic, who appears tonight through Sunday night at the Irvine Improv. "The Lovemaster still floats in and out of the act, but now there's this whole new guy: Diapermaster or Minivan Man. I mean, I panicked--I bought a minivan. That's what you're supposed to do, right?
"Plus my wife still wants to be romanced. So I have [to support the family] as a comedian, I have to do the dad stuff, and I'm supposed to be romantic too, which is difficult for me anyway. I'm from Philly. Our idea of romance is 'Relax honey, there ain't no cars coming.' '
Shoemaker admits he's a little apprehensive about how his new material will affect his unmarried fans, who may not identify with the exploits of Diapermaster. Yet he's also hoping that his more family-oriented material will finally land him his own sitcom.
The 39-year-old Shoemaker feels the strong association between himself and the sexually charged Lovemaster character has caused network television types to shy away from him in the past. He's had trouble just getting into executive offices to pitch his sitcom ideas.
It's not as if he's an obscure talent. A 20-year veteran, Shoemaker is among the better-known figures on the stand-up circuit. Two years ago, he won Comedian of the Year honors at the American Comedy Awards.
Shoemaker hasn't undergone a total image make-over. The Lovemaster and popular bits like his Barney Fife imitation are still staples of his show.
"I have to do Lovemaster," he said. "If you go to see Bruce Springsteen and he doesn't do 'Born to Run,' you would be pretty [upset]. If I don't do Barney Fife and the Lovemaster, there are people literally screaming out for them. I can't ignore them."
His ill-fated experience playing the sidekick on Magic Johnson's short-lived talk show last year has also generated plenty of stand-up material for the outgoing comic.
Last summer, Shoemaker was fired after three tumultuous weeks on the critically abused "The Magic Hour." The late-night talk show starring the ill-equipped basketball legend was canceled about a month later.
Shoemaker feels he was a made a scapegoat by the show's producers. He said the program was in chaos before it even aired, noting that he was hired just one week before "The Magic Hour" premiered.
"Magic has the type of charisma of nobody I've ever seen," he said. "He walks on a stage and people glow. That's why it had a chance right out of the gate.
"But when this show [didn't start out well], people panicked, and deservedly so. It was lousy," he said. "My job changed literally every 20 minutes. I would be told, 'They want you to be political,' 'They don't want you to say anything when Magic has a guest,' 'They want you to be less political,' 'They want you to be personal,' 'Talk about Magic,' 'Don't talk about Magic.' These were orders that I heard within minutes of each other."
All in all, though, Shoemaker feels that his reputation has been enhanced by his experience with the show and that most people understand that he was a victim, not a villain.
Since "The Magic Hour" fiasco, Shoemaker has been a frequent guest on Howard Stern's radio show ("Howard loves the underdog," he said) and the new "Hollywood Squares" TV game show.
He grew up watching "Hollywood Squares" during its first run in the 1960s and '70s. As a kid, he once wrote a letter to show regular Paul Lynde asking him if he wanted to date his mother.
"I wanted him to be my dad," said Shoemaker, laughing. "I thought he was funny, and my mom liked him and thought he was handsome. We read all about him and we found out he was single. So I thought, 'Why not have him as my dad?' "
Shoemaker's own father left his family when he was just an infant. He says his dad now runs a rural mule-riding business. Having grown up surrounded mostly by females, Shoemaker was elated when he discovered that his child was going to be a boy. Still, figuring out how to raise young Justin has been a learning experience.
"Since I didn't really have a father, I have to go by friends, books and instinct," he said. "I am trying to butch him up a little bit because my wife really dotes on him. I literally wrestle with him. He loves it. It's like an instinct with males. He just laughs and loves to be turned upside down. I'm very physical with him, and we have fun together."
Shoemaker's second CD is titled "Son of Lovemaster," but was recorded three months before Justin was born. The CD is only available at the comedian's shows or via mail or the Internet (Shoemaker's Web site is www.craigshoemaker.com.)
Acting continues to be a significant part of Shoemaker's career. Last April he appeared in the Showtime film "Safe House" with Patrick Stewart, Amanda Plummer and Hector Elizondo. He also just played the lead role in a comedy television pilot directed by former Monkee Micky Dolenz.
Shoemaker's big dream is to star in his own semiautobiographical sitcom. But he insists he won't be devastated if that never happens.
"If I don't [get the TV series] I'll just keep playing the shopping centers. There are a lot of people who come to these [live stand-up] shows," he said. "I gave up the obsession with [landing a sitcom]. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I'm really enjoying my life and my life onstage right now."
* Craig Shoemaker opens tonight at the Irvine Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Suite 138. 8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday. $10-$12. (949) 854-5455.