As the host of Shaquille O'Neal's All-Star Comedy Jam 2012, Gary Owen always has to be on his game. There's no letup — not when you're the guy charged with keeping the crowd roaring through six different acts putting out more than two hours of material.
"It's harder, the further you get into a show, to keep the laughs going," said the Cincinnati-born Owen, who will be the on-stage leader when the jam takes over Baltimore's Lyric Opera House on Saturday. "People may think you're just as funny, but they get tired. We have a two-hour-plus show, so if you're going last on a particular night, it's my job to make sure that the crowd is still up, that the energy's still good."
It's not like the crowd will be seeing a bunch of amateurs up on stage. True, there are two relative newcomers, young comics Lavar Walker and Robert Powell. But both of them "are just killing" on the tour so far, Owen assures. And the pros — himself, Capone, Tony Roberts and "Saturday Night Live" alum Finesse Mitchell — are bringing it every night.
"This show, from beginning to end, is just good," said Owen, minutes after landing back in Cincinnati and just a day away from heading for Las Vegas, where he'll be hosting the Soul Train Awards before heading for Baltimore.
"Everybody's bringing their own little perspectives, their own little twists on life. You know, sometimes you'll get a comedy show where there'll be four or five guys, and you'll be like, 'Oh yeah, the second guy was good.' But everybody's funny in this show."
The Bronx-born Capone, whose real name is Derrick Lee, agrees. He's been doing stand-up since 1992, when a friend challenged him to shift his talents from hustling on the streets to cutting-up on the stage. He has rarely enjoyed himself more, he says, or been received more enthusiastically by audiences.
"I've done movies, I've done TV shows, but I've never gotten the type of [support] that I've gotten with the help of this tour," Capone said earlier this week. "It humbles you."
Humbling, maybe. But Capone promises his material will stay just as funny — and as profane — as ever. He'll be talking plenty of trash from the Lyric stage, riffing on relationships, on getting older, on wonder drugs like Cialis, even on getting through superstorm Sandy.
"Everybody's talking about Sandy and how much tragedy she has caused," Capone said in mock outrage. "But I've been dealing with this stuff for years. I've been evicted, I've lost my house before ..."
Capone acknowledges that he can be pretty raunchy, but that's fine with him. Just don't bring the kids, he cautioned.
"Yeah, everybody coming in there should definitely be an adult," he said. "I don't even want to say 18, I'd say 20 or older. I am a father, and this is not something that you want to bring your kids to."
But for those old enough to take it, Owen assured, a good time is guaranteed. The comic who was once chosen in a phone-in poll as "The Funniest Black Comedian in San Diego," even though he's white — "I just never told them I wasn't black," he explained — joked that there's even a money-back guarantee that audiences will enjoy themselves.
"Look, with all the stuff that's going on in the world, this is the best show to just forget your problems and enjoy yourself," he said. "The beauty of these guys us, they're just so relatable. They're telling stories that everybody gets. And they're laughing about it."
O'Neal, who put together the first all-star jam last year, most likely will not be coming to Baltimore. These days, he's spending much of his time as an NBA analyst on TNT. There's a chance he might show up — "You never know when he's going to show," Owen said — but for the most part, Shaq leaves the laughs to the pros.
Still, Owen couldn't resist a basketball analogy. "You know, this show is kind of like seeing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play. You're seeing the best."
If you go
Shaquille O'Neal's All-Star Comedy Jam 2012 is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $35-$45. Information: 410-900-1150 or lyricoperahouse.com.