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Comic Wallace Jumps Easily to Big Screen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While hordes of stage comics scramble for their spot in sitcom heaven, George Wallace has been quietly and methodically building himself a nice little side career on the big screen.

He has landed in some prestige projects too: A small role in “Punchline” (in the hospital scene) led to a bigger role in the upcoming “Postcards From the Edge,” a film based on the best-selling Carrie Fisher novel starring Meryl Streep.

And earlier this month, he wrapped up nine weeks of shooting on “A Rage in Harlem,” a thriller starring Danny Glover, Gregory Hines and Forest Whitaker.

But Wallace--who heads a four-comic bill Saturday at the Celebrity Theatre--swears that stand-up comedy will remain his first priority. Outside the confines of a written role, he finds the freedom to take on his favorite targets, such as conversational cliches, pricey hotels and driving.

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In “A Rage in Harlem,” Wallace plays Gravedigger Jones, one of a pair of “nasty and cold” cops in 1956 Harlem. The normally genial comedian said he had some fun taking on the attitudes of his character, though he eventually added some unplanned comic touches to what was written as a decidedly non-comic role.

“We’d get a laugh, and it wasn’t in the script,” Wallace said. The director went with the flow, and the menacing cop team became a bit of darkly comic relief.

Wallace, a favorite guest of Jay Leno’s on “The Tonight Show,” has been working the clubs since 1977, the year he walked away from a successful marketing career.

On stage, he doesn’t dwell on the coincidence of sharing his name with the former Alabama governor--but his material makes the ironic point for him. “What is it all you white people do Friday and Saturday nights,” Wallace asks, “that makes you put all your furniture on the lawn Sunday morning anyway?”

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He also pokes fun at a TV ad he saw for a Civil War chess set. “You know,” he says, “that’s something I really enjoy--sitting around and reliving the Civil War.”

What’s next, he muses, a slave version of Monopoly? “Everywhere you land on the board, it’s ‘Go to jail, go to jail, go to jail.’ ”

George Wallace, Stephanie Hodge, Dr. Gonzo and Fred Greenlee, with host Geno Michellini, will perform in the “Five O’Clock Funnies All-Star Comedy Show” Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Celebrity Theatre, 201 E. Broadway in Anaheim. Tickets: $18.50. Information: (714) 999-9536.


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