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The Many Faces of Dom Are Hard to Find When Comic Leaves Stage

As comedy troupes go, Dom Irrera is one of the best.

Of course, Irrera is just one guy. But his act is brimming with so many voices and characters, it seems like a lot of guys, like he might be afflicted with some kind of multiple-personality disorder.

In what could be entitled “The Three (or More) Faces of Dom,” an Irrera show typically features appearances by a range of folks:

From an urbane Italian gent indignant about the use of certain types of street slang, to an unctuous, cartoonish lounge comic who’s puzzled and perturbed by the indifferent crowd reaction to his dreadful jokes, frequently tapping the microphone and asking “Is this thing on?” or attacking the audience (“What are you people--extras from the movie ‘Coma’?”)

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This potpourri of personas has served him well (the 37-year-old comic has appeared on all the key talk shows, for instance, and his “One Night Stand” HBO program was recently nominated for an ACE--the cable equivalent of an Emmy--for best comedy special). But in some ways, the most striking personality is the off-stage one--what appears to be the real Dom Irrera.

Comedians, especially veteran comedians, tend to be very self-absorbed people with gigantic egos, often wildly impatient to score the next career breakthrough.

Spend some time with Irrera--who appears Thursday at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach--and you can’t help but notice how he’s none of those things.

During a recent lunch interview, Irrera came across as a low-key, regular guy, asking nearly as many questions as he was asked (for a top comic, that’s really rare), and generally doing nothing that would betray that he was a hotshot comedian--apart from the occasional quirky aside.

Sitting down at a Hollywood restaurant he had selected, and asked what he recommended, Irrera replied: “I think I would just like to have a bottle of wine and hold you for a while--is that so wrong?”

But there was none of that enormously egocentric comedian behavior implying that Irrera thinks that the world revolves around him or that he’s in a hurry to make it revolve around him.

Exhibit A: his refreshingly modest attitude when the conversation drifted onto the subject of pursuing his own television series. After all, he’s a trained actor (he majored in drama at Florida’s Biscayne College) with credits that include a part in “Hollywood Shuffle,” a recurring role in “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” and guest shots on other sitcoms.

But he says he’s not in any particular hurry to land his own show: “No, I’m really not. I’d rather step into somebody else’s show than start my own.”

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“I really like being part of a team,” explained Irrera, an avid basketball player. “I don’t mean to be corny about it, but--it’s like I would never name my show ‘The Dom Irrera Show.’ I mean, Roseanne (Barr) has the kind of ego that made sure that the name of her show was ‘Roseanne.’ That’s fine for Roseanne--I like Roseanne--but I just don’t have that kind of ego.”

Further evidence that the Philadelphia native is free of potent, Blob-like conceit surfaces in a discussion of the television commercials he’s about to start taping for a line of frozen food.

After explaining that the commercials would largely consist of snippets from his stand-up act, he was asked if he had full control over the content of the ads.

“Yeah, pretty much; ‘cause it’s just my act,” he said. “And, if anything, (the ad agency) wrote it better.”

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Wrote it better --this comment is far more startling than it might initially seem.

Experienced, first-rate comedians generally aren’t open to people trying to tinker with the material they’ve written and honed over the years. The key exception would be occasional advice from fellow comics--especially someone like wordsmith extraordinaire Jerry Seinfeld (who, coincidentally, Irrera names as one of his favorites, calling him “the best writer since Woody Allen”).

So it’s highly unusual that Irrera not only accepted input from an outsider, but endorsed it. “Well, you can lose objectivity (about your material) because you’re too close to it. So it’s fun to have a writer interpreting your act sometimes. They can pick up things, their wording is a little better, they can give you a better phrase. . . .”

As humble and amiable as Irrera is--and as character-laden as his act is--don’t get the idea that his humor is always toothless. In a piece that usually closes his show, Irrera starts to address his attention to Ed McMahon, launching into a no-holds-barred verbal riff:

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“Mr. Ed, you big, fat, talentless hump; kissing Johnny’s (behind) for the last 30 years. You Budweiser-sucking, Alpo-slinging nothing--what do you do? . . . I don’t know, do you ?”

Inquiring minds want to know whether McMahon has seen Irrera do this bit--and if so, how he reacted. “I think he’s seen it,” Irrera said. “I worked the Philadelphia Music Awards a couple of weeks ago, and Ed was presented an award for some of his great musical achievements. Remember those early Ed McMahon albums? Oh, we used to just sit by the fireplace. . . .

“Anyway, he was there. I said ‘Hi’ to him and he said ‘Hi’ to me. I didn’t know if he knew the joke, but he has to because when I went on stage, I was told his daughter went up to him and said ‘Dad, Dom’s on.’ He went out in the audience and sat there and laughed. So that made me feel good.”

Dom Irrera performs Thursday at the Laff Stop, 2122 S.E. Bristol, Newport Beach. Show times: 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets: $8.50. Information: (714) 852-8762.

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