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Tamer on TV? Comedian Focuses on 'Frankness'


Comedian Robert Schimmel is ready for his close-up, but are you? After roughly two decades logging endless miles on the club circuit (including performances this weekend at the Irvine Improv) plus three CDs and an HBO special, Schimmel recently shot "Schimmel," a sitcom pilot for Fox, with Mike Scully ("The Simpsons") as executive producer. If the show is picked up, Schimmel will play a stereo salesman and father of two, both things he has been. Schimmel has a fourth CD in the works, again from Warner Bros., after critical praise for such earlier works as "If You Buy This CD, I Can Get This Car." His humor on that CD left little to the imagination. About a recent heart attack, he quipped, "They shave your crotch, or maybe I just fell for it."

Question: On your sitcom, you play a dad. In your comedy, you play a dad, too, but a dad with incredibly raunchy thoughts. How do you bring that to TV?

Answer: Mike Scully [has] been a fan of mine for years. . . . He says it's not really my language [that's important], it's my honesty and frankness about everything. You can get away with a lot of that on television. The episodes he pitched were based on my act and my real-life experiences. I'm married on the show and I have a 17-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old daughter, and I have to talk to them about dating and the facts of life.

Q: In "Seinfeld," Jerry Seinfeld got by without becoming an actor. Can you do the same?

A: One thing comics usually don't have to deal with, when you're onstage for 19 years, is worrying about upstaging anybody. Some of it's learning how to shake talking like a comedian. . . . Even though they're jokes I'm telling [on stage], no one talks like that at home all day long. So it wasn't learning to act so much as learning not to overact. . . . I wanted to take acting lessons because, without naming anybody, I know a few [comedians] who had sitcom deals that didn't work out, and all of them didn't want to take acting lessons.

Q: Given that you had a mild heart attack not that long ago, are you worried about the stress of having a sitcom on the air?

A: I have to go for a physical, so if you die, they don't lose money. They're not as hacky as the boxing doctors. I'm the kind of guy who could have 50 bad headaches for three weeks, and if the doctor says, 'Robert, it's a sinus thing,' I'll bug him and bug him and bug him until he gives me a [CT] scan and an MRI to prove to me there's nothing there. And I leave his office thinking, "That's when the tumor started growing. Right after he took that picture."

Q: Your profile as a comedian was raised considerably by radio personality Howard Stern. Is Stern, in effect, the new Johnny Carson in terms of his power to launch a comic?

A: I did his show on a Friday morning, and the next night I was in Atlantic City and sold out the place. His fans are really loyal. If he says, "Hey, Robert Schimmel is really funny, go see him," they come out. I really appreciate everything that he's done. . . . Leno, Letterman and Conan cannot do that for anybody. . . . If you look at the guest list for "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson," he had major people on that show every night. It's not like that anymore. I see comics going on "The Tonight Show" that I've never even heard of. It's not the same thing anymore.


Robert Schimmel will be at the Irvine Improv at the Irvine Spectrum Mall today through Sunday. (949) 854-5455.

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