Comedy Is King Next Week With Full Deck of Jokers

Through a surge of serendipity, the local comedy scene will be jammed with jokes next week--or at least bustling with activity that will include the return of some top-notch veteran comedians, a combination benefit show and comedy competition and two grand openings.

The weeklong boom begins Sunday, when Fractured Mirror, an enormously gifted local comedy troupe, has its grand opening at the L.P.R. Dinner Theatre (also known as the Brobdingnag Theatre) in Tustin.

Although it draws reviews wherever it performs, Fractured Mirror has long been under-appreciated in its own back yard. This show is yet another attempt by the group to find and build an audience in Orange County. The group plans, depending on the shows' success, to hold forth each Sunday at the theater.

The troupe performs an assortment of sketches--some goofy, some poignant, some that are both. Anyone who has enjoyed Saturday Night Live, the Groundlings or Second City will enjoy Fractured Mirror. And at $2 a ticket, Sunday's show is the best entertainment value around.

Two noteworthy events are planned for Monday.

The Laff Stop in Newport Beach will have a preliminary round of "Stand-Up Comics Take a Stand," an annual comedy competition that benefits United Cerebral Palsy.

From a field said to have numbered more than 250, 80 comics have been selected to participate. The comedians in the runoff include Butch Fisco, Karyn White and Dick Hardwick (whom longtime Disneyland visitors may remember as the slapshtick comic who used to perform at the park's Golden Horseshoe Revue).

The winner in Monday's runoff moves on to the semifinals; the finals will be at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles June 22 and will be taped for a national cable TV special.

Monday will also see the return of Richard Belzer to the Irvine Improvisation. Although he is a veteran comic with major achievements in all media, Belzer is, surprisingly, an unknown quantity on the stand-up stage. On any given night, a set of his can range from shaky to brilliant.

In his last 1-nighter at the Improv, last July, he was close to the "brilliant" end of the spectrum with his blistering political commentary--including some choice verbal salvos at Reagan--incisive observations and anecdotes, and with his numerous quick-witted exchanges with the audience. It turned out to be one of the strongest local comedy shows of last year. He even got a great 5 minutes simply improvising from the club's drink menu.

Paula Poundstone opens a 6-night return engagement Tuesday at the Improv. She has racked up some impressive credits since her last visit in December: She performed again on the "Tonight Show," "Late Night With David Letterman" and in her own HBO special.

Still, none of those appearances really showed what makes her one of the best performers in contemporary stand-up. She has a wealth of wonderfully original material, and she also reinvents her act each night, incorporating not only what happened to her that day but also what is happening in the audience at that moment.

Because her approach is freewheeling and she takes a lot of chances, her sets don't tend to be as tightly focused--or even as loaded with big punch lines--as those of some of her colleagues. Then again, a show like that can be seen any night of the week. Poundstone is in a class by herself.

Lenny Clarke checks in Wednesday at the Laff Stop for a 3-night run, headlining Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, the club will present a "special event" with the hyperkinetic comic Amazing Johnathan.

Clarke has been an influential mainstay of the Boston comedy scene, which has produced many notable comedians, among them Steven Wright and Poundstone. Unlike either Wright's or Poundstone's, however, Clarke's is a blustery style that uses plenty of R-rated (sometimes X-rated) language and themes.

Thursday was to have brought a performance by Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor Dennis Miller at the Coach House, but that show has been "postponed." Those who have already purchased tickets may obtain refunds where they bought them, or they may keep the tickets to be honored when the show is rescheduled. It's worth noting, though, that a new date has not been set and that Miller has been booked to perform (along with Louie Anderson) June 16 at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim.

Coconuts, the north county comedy club, will present shows this weekend at its new spot--the Anaheim Plaza hotel. The move means that the club will have a larger showroom, an hors d'oeuvres menu and a waiting area for customers.

Headlining this weekend's grand opening shows is Jordan Brady, one of stand-up's brightest, most promising whipper-snappers. Brady, 24, possesses remarkable poise and has already accumulated a fistful of TV credits and exposure in some national media (Rolling Stone, "The Today Show"). He also has a "holding deal" with NBC--that is, an arrangement by which the network pays the performer to remain available exclusively to it while it tries to cast him in a show.

Brady's material is good. He's engaging, quick on his feet--and obviously has a big future.

The L.P.R. (Brobdingnag) Dinner Theatre is at 15732-D, Tustin Village Way, Tustin. Showtime: 8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $2. Information: (714) (714) 835-9611.

The Laff Stop is at 2122 S.E. Bristol St., Newport Beach. Showtimes: 8:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets: $5-$9. Information: (714) 852-8762.

The Improv is at 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. Showtimes: 8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $7-$10. Information: (714) 854-5455.

Coconuts is at the Anaheim Plaza Resort Hotel, 1700 S. Harbor Blvd, Anaheim. Showtimes: 8:30 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets: $5. Information: (714) 979-JOKE.

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