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COMEDY REVIEW : Experiencing Humor’s Flip Side at the Laff Stop

It’s always uplifting to watch a comedian whose act reflects tremendous improvement. The distressing--heck, depressing --flip side of this phenomenon is catching a comic whose act is heading the other direction. Like Jeff DeHart, who appeared Wednesday at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach.

Not that DeHart was ever a great comedian, or even demonstrated the potential to be. But Wednesday’s show presented a performer who has taken a quantum leap backward.

DeHart is a comedian and impressionist, but both terms are used loosely. It seems that he’s moving away from--or at least de-emphasizing--impressions, saving most of them for the end of his set while initially focusing on straight stand-up. In theory, this is a wise decision.

Like prop comics or song parodists, impressionists (to paraphrase Dennis Miller) tend to Peter Principle themselves out of the business. There’s only so far you can go “doing” other people--even if you’re an extraordinary impressionist. (Do you see Rich Little in the movies very often, or with his own television series?)

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And DeHart is only an average mimic. He often captures the physical side of his subjects quite well, but rarely the vocal side; his David Brenner, Pee-wee Herman and Johnny Carson are dead-on, for example, but his Charles Bronson sounds more like Jackie Mason.

So his apparent effort to hold down, or at least hold off on, impressions represents the right intent, but the wrong result.

With DeHart, there may be no way around the wrong result. The only impression he performed in the early going Wednesday was Rod Serling, but we weren’t entering the “Twilight” so much as the “Joke-Free Zone.”

Much of his 47-minute performance was strewn with the kind of gags you would expect from the barely tolerable “funny guy” at work, not from a professional comic. And this guy was headlining .

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This meant a pair of jokes and some references that fell somewhere between homophobic and gay-bashing; this meant clever re-creations of a guy telling him he was employed by Xerox (“I work for Xerox, Xerox, Xerox . . .”); this meant jokes about the brusque behavior of New Yorkers--and about numerous other topics--that were so far below generic that you wondered if he mailed away for them.

Actually, if he doesn’t already mail away for them, maybe he should. Not only is his stand-up stuff excruciatingly bad, but most of his impressions just seem like an excuse for weak material.

On the positive side (such as it was), DeHart did introduce a couple of sharp premises, one of which he executed quite well: That women being catty in a roomful of people practice a form of ventriloquism.

Otherwise, to comment further on Wednesday’s show would be like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel.

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DeHart continues at the Laff Stop through Sunday.

The Laff Stop is at 2122 S.E. Bristol St., Newport Beach. Show times: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 8, 10 and 11:45 p.m. Saturday; 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $6 to $9. Information: (714) 852-8762.


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