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COMEDY REVIEW : Engvall Unveils Zany World, Stupid People

Sometimes it seems as if stupidity is meant to prosper and that Darwin’s theory about survival of the fittest must be a myth.

That’s pretty much the starting point for one of Bill Engvall’s trademark routines. Engvall, a blond, slightly worried-looking Texan who opened at the Improvisation on Tuesday and will perform through Saturday, dwells on stupid gas station attendants, stupid pets, stupid couples, stupid this, stupid that.

In general, Engvall thinks it would be nice if stupid people wore signs saying they are stupid. Then we might be able to avoid them, or at least not rely on their help. Of course, such labeling is creepy, but that’s part of what Engvall is getting at: The idea of imposing a tag on folks is really stupid.

One reason is that in Engvall’s world, boneheadedness can be like a conspiracy, invading everything. Even Engvall. It helps that we get a little satisfaction when he gets a tad venomous about those dim bulbs who are always trying our patience. But it also helps that he includes himself in all this; it’s always easier to identify with the joker when he’s part of the joke.

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Sometimes we’re made to feel even more stupid than we are, like when companies talk down to us. Engvall is amazed by the warnings on hair dryers that tell us not to use them while we’re asleep or in the shower. Preparation H’s advice not to take it orally also tickles him. Do we really need to know that?

While that bit had its effective streaks, Engvall’s riffs on airplanes and flying and his own marriage were less productive. Familiar terrain for most comics, they lacked the element of freshness that can overcome the standard-issue nature of the topics.

His 50-minute set was also weakened by an indulgence in one or two “voices” and a few facial expressions used to emphasize certain jokes. Their redundancy marred his originality and, at times, was cloying.

Besides stupidity, Engvall’s other signature routine settles on animals and involves a fair amount of anthropomorphic play. His pets--Engvall’s home, apparently, is full of cats and dogs--figure into it as he speculated on what their lives must be like.

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Funny, they often seem deeper than the humans around them. Cats, for instance, are going to have a harder time than dogs adjusting to being neutered. The submissive Fido will take it in stride, but the egotistical feline is another matter. How are the other cats out in the alley going to react? Engvall’s cat reflects sadly: “Man, I used to be somebody in this neighborhood.”

Engvall ventured into the jungle a few times, mostly to talk about his fear of snakes, but he also offered some amusing bits on other wild animals. Like the zebra who decides to be an informer so he won’t get eaten by lions.

See, this wimpy (but smart) zebra goes up to the pride and says, “Here’s the deal. Bob--he smokes. After about 50 yards, he’ll start wheezing. That’s when you cut him out.”

You know what Engvall’s thinking: Would a stupid person have thought of that?

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Comedians Bill Engvall, Johnny Steele and John Carney perform today at 8:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 and 10 p.m. at the Improvisation, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. Tickets: $7 to $10. (714) 854-5455.


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