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To win with defeatism

Andy Cowan seeks radio success with 'Up and Down Guys,' in which the sitcom writer will unload his many woes on a therapist.

September 27, 2004|Lori Gottlieb | Special to The Times

"Oh, God, I'm boring you, aren't I?" Andy Cowan says for the third time in as many minutes. The former "Seinfeld" writer and self-described neurotic is talking about a new radio show he'll be cohosting on KLSX-FM (97.1), and he's just stopped midsentence with apologies about not getting enough sleep and a tendency to ramble. It's not shtick -- he's genuinely distraught that the interview isn't going well.

He's already apologized repeatedly for making this reporter remove her shoes upon entering his Santa Monica home. "I'm a bit of neat freak," he explains. "I was just out on the streets and I watched a lot of people hocking loogies onto the pavement, and I don't want to increase the likelihood of one those loogies making an unwelcome visit in my apartment."

And his shades are drawn so that no sunlight comes through. "I don't need to be ultra-aware of all the dust swimming in the atmosphere," he says with a shrug. "Besides, do I really want to get a suntan at the expense of bleaching my furniture?"

This pessimistic outlook is what Cowan intends to channel into "Up and Down Guys," in which the downbeat sitcom writer will be paired with the upbeat Santa Monica psychologist Scott Kopoian in what Cowan describes as "an interactive therapy session coupled with a comedic talk radio show." The show is still awaiting a spot on the air.

The unlikely duo met at an even unlikelier venue five years ago -- a singles event. Cowan went with a friend who met his future wife there. That woman came with her ex-boyfriend, who turned out to be Kopoian. "My friend and I both got long-term relationships that night," says Cowan. "Of course, I would have preferred a female long-term relationship, but Scott and I had a weird chemistry and as I got to know him better, I started to think there was something to the yin and yang of 'up' and 'down' personalities."

His notion resulted in over 50 episodes of "Up and Down Guys" on the NWEZ website, where the show gained a cult following in cyberspace. Each week, Cowan brought his quirky observations about politics ("I wish the candidates impacted me more personally -- sure, health insurance is important, but what about failed date insurance!"), day-to-day life and the Hollywood piranha pool to Kopoian, or "Dr. K.," for analysis.

The hour also featured input from chat room listeners, interviews with studio guests -- including Cowan's cohort of former "Seinfeld" scribes -- and recurring segments such as "Why I Feel Guilty This Week" ("I feel guilty resenting a lower life form who has it better than me, like a dog in Bel-Air"), "Personal Ad Reviews" (" 'Dale Evans seeks Roy Rogers to ride into the sunset with' -- if that's her reference, she must be 90 years old! Or stuffed, like Trigger!"), "Virtual Date" ("I call up the rare woman who'll take my call in this town -- the directory assistance lady"), and "Unemployment Tonight," glitzy "Entertainment Tonight"-style profiles featuring the 90% of Hollywood that's out of work.

"It was like the vaudeville of the 21st century," Cowan says of the Internet show. "It allowed us to experiment and be good and bad, like the Marx Brothers used to do."

Earlier this year, the cyber-show came to the attention of KLSX program director Jack Silver, who was "looking to cultivate new personalities for our formats." "Up and Down Guys" is part of this mission.

"I want to see if there's a diamond in the rough," he says. Silver has also commissioned two other new "beta shows" this summer, one cohosted by Drew Carey and former "Simpsons" executive producer Sam Simon; and "Two Chicks and a Bunny," featuring Kerri Kasem, Casey Kasem's daughter. He plans to bring them back as fill-ins this fall.

The home of Howard Stern and Tom Leykis may seem an odd fit for a personality more akin to Woody Allen's. "I'm hoping there's an untapped audience of neurotic people that haven't been properly serviced by the airwaves," Cowan explains. Bruce Kirschbaum, the Emmy-winning sitcom writer who will appear as a guest on the radio show, thinks there is.

"There's nothing funny about a person who's satisfied with life," Kirschbaum says. " 'Seinfeld' was all about identifying with doubt and insecurity and unhappiness. It's amusing to see other people suffering in that way too -- you feel better about yourself. And Andy is wound so tight that if I pulled my finger back and flicked him on the side of his head, he would ring like fine crystal for 15 minutes."

Sam Kass, another "Seinfeld" buddy who will be the "Up and Down Guys' " wry entertainment correspondent, puts it this way: "Here's a guy who's saying, 'I'm not the only sad sack around and I come back each week and I haven't killed myself.' It's uplifting."

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