O.C. COMEDY REVIEW : Will the Real Wil Please Stand Up?

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Wil Shriner is a nice-looking man with a stage demeanor to match. Tuesday at the Irvine Improvisation he showed he’s amiable and accessible. There’s no anger, no edge to his comedy. A pleasant, completely inoffensive guy who occasionally exudes low-key charm.

Such qualities were evident in “The Wil Shriner Show,” a weekday television program that barely lasted the 1987-88 season, but which did air in more than 100 markets, making him a bigger draw than the average club comic.

And it helps him attract a lot of people who probably don’t get out much--or, at least, who don’t see much comedy--meaning a Shriner audience is loaded with folks who are: a) predisposed to like him; b) not discriminating stand-up fans.


Good thing, too.

Probably Shriner’s biggest drawback is his material. It’s one thing to operate as a traditional monologuist; it’s quite another to be so excessively old school that you’re telling jokes so predictable and corny that even Bob Hope wouldn’t touch them. He traffics in the kind of lame, sub-Vaudeville gags mocked with such glee by David Letterman, the man who gave Shriner his big break. Seeming surprisingly nervous, Shriner began talking kind of fast, which just added to the Henny-esque quality of the lines:

“I have a friend who’s been married so many times he sends his alimony checks out bulk rate. . . . My high school was so small, the mascot was an amoeba.”

Rim shot .

“(I told my shrink) I had no perception of time. He said, ‘Your three hours are up.’ . . . I called a discount exterminator. The guy shows up with a rolled-up magazine.”

But seriously .

After 35, 40, 50 minutes of this , you couldn’t help wondering: Where are the films? Shriner launched his comedy career showing his own short movies in clubs while providing live narration. He eventually began writing material and developing a stand-up act, but it was the films that made his club performances distinctive, the films that made him a hotshot on “Late Night With David Letterman” and the films that some of us were eagerly awaiting Tuesday.

Now, there’s one school of thought in stand-up that any nonverbal component is not only impure, but a crutch that true comedic artists will wean themselves off, or at least downplay.

But anyone who would impose that thinking on Shriner hasn’t endured nearly an hour of his material without a film. (To be fair, a good joke bobbed to the surface now and then: After suggesting that one of the main reasons for subscribing to cable TV is for the movies--though some are pretty marginal--he revealed, “A movie the other night was so bad I walked out of my own house.” Or, addressing the TV series “Beauty and the Beast”: “Here’s an unrealistic premise: An ugly guy gets the beautiful girl. This doesn’t happen in real life, outside of Billy Joel. . . .”)


At least there was one cinematic interlude: near the end, Shriner screened probably his best-known short, which chronicles the time his two dogs took the car out for a drive. It’s a wonderful piece--a classic dogumentary--but that was it for the flicks. It would have been nice if he had shown a few more, perhaps interspersed with the stand-up, or maybe one film section in the middle.

It would have bolstered the whole performance, not just because most of his material is tired and weak, but also because it consists primarily of free-floating jokes; there’s rarely a sense of a cohesive piece , and there’s absolutely no sense of building dynamics or momentum.

It was excruciatingly apparent that he had been on too long before he got to the film. A related misjudgment was that he chose to perform for an hour overall; this is a comic who should just do a tight 45 minutes, and not a second more.

As a bonus gaffe, after showing the film--a nice, different, upbeat closing bit, and which often serves as just that--he actually returned to material, telling jokes about sperm banks!

At least you could feel glad that there are other areas of show business in which Shriner not only works, but flourishes--including film maker, actor, writer--because you find yourself wanting to pull for him.

He seems like a good guy; he’s just not a good comedian.

Headlining a bill that also includes Dana Gould and Steve Gates, Shriner continues through Sunday at the Improv.

The Improv is at 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. Show times: 8:30 tonight and Sunday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $7-$10. Information: (714) 852-8762.