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A Shock to the System : Is Crass Comic Really a Softy at Heart?

ASSISTANT SAN DIEGO ARTS EDITOR

This is a story about a man famous for hating women, homosexuals, the Pope, the homeless and the hungry.

This is a story about Sam Kinison, the shocking, vulgar, crude and obnoxious comedian who will appear Wednesday and Thursday at the International Ballroom at the Hilton on Mission Bay.

And this is a story that might shock some people because, beneath his rage and bluster, Kinison says, there lies a sensitive soul.

And it hurts him to that soul, he says, when he is misunderstood.

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Has Sam become a mellower bellower?

He gave up the AIDS jokes after the death of Ryan White--and after learning that his best friend’s father had contracted the disease last year.

“Now I realize that I was pretty insensitive about AIDS,” Kinison said in a Times interview in August. “I was honestly unaware. AIDS is a horrible disease, and the people who catch it deserve compassion.”

He has lent his support to the T.J. Martell Foundation, raising more than $500,000 so far to fight AIDS. He coached a softball team to raise money to fight the disease.

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He has done other charitable acts, too. He gave a benefit concert in Madison Square Garden last year to help Lenny Bruce’s 83-year-old mother, raising $100,000 (including $67,000 of his own).

But, temperamentally, most of his show remains pretty much the same. The 37-year-old comic uses the crescendo approach. He’s among the proud, the loud. Women still call him a sexist pig.

“I’ve never been against women,” Kinison lamented in a phone interview from Los Angeles, in which, in contrast to his stage persona, he was courteous and pleasant. “That anti-feminist rap is bogus. I think men should be nice to women, buy them diamonds.”

“I encourage guys to make love better so you don’t get divorced and lose half of everything.”

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He compared his material to Jackie Gleason’s on “The Honeymooners,” particularly Gleason’s signature line: “To the Moon, Alice.” He wondered why mock violence against women is OK for Gleason but taboo for Kinison.

He knows the line that did it, he said. He has joked that he doesn’t encourage violence against women--but he understands it.

“In reality, there’s yelling and throwing things. I know what turns Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist. I was thinking of Gleason the whole time I was doing that routine. I just want to make people laugh.”

Ironically, Kinison lists Gleason, one of America’s most-revered comics, as one of his mentors, along with John Belushi (“anyone who was heavy and funny”), Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

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Kinison’s act, however, is nothing like Gleason’s smooth, polished routine. Or Belushi’s role playing or Pryor’s ethnic slurring. He turns himself inside out, emitting primal screams that evoke tortured inner feelings.

And he doesn’t appreciate others horning in on his turf. Kinison has no use for Andrew Dice Clay.

“I’ve known Dice since 1980 when he was doing impressions,” Kinison said. “In 1984, he did me. I haven’t liked him since. He ripped me off. I challenged him to a duel.”

In his act, Kinison, a former Pentecostal preacher, rants, raves and bellows. His punch lines are often punctuated with a roar, a primal scream. One writer described him as a “virulent troll whose treasure has been lifted from his cave.”

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“Rage only works if it is justified,” Kinison said, emphasizing that he has gone through two painful and heart-breaking divorces. “That’s the trick with rage. You gotta have a reason to be mad. By the time I’m screaming, it’s a heartfelt pain.”

Traditionally, he has touched the untouchable topics: the underdogs.

“Society needs a couple of vents that say what you’re not supposed to say . . . to cross the line. People enjoy what they can’t have.”

Now Kinison--who grew up in Peoria, Ill., and started in comedy about 11 years ago--is heading into a little more political stuff, devoting the first 15 to 20 minutes of his act to it.

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“I talk about Quayle and how Reagan was the original Milli Vanilli. Stuff like that.

“I’d like to think that I’m headed more to family entertainment,” he deadpanned, despite the fact that his three albums and a fourth due out next year all contain warning stickers.

“I’ve never minded that (the labels). I do adult material, and I don’t think 10-year-olds should be hearing this stuff.”

As further proof of his social respectability and responsibility, he said he would like to fly to Saudi Arabia to entertain the troops in “Operation Desert Shield.”

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“I’m trying to get the State Department to send me over,” he said. “Why not? I support what we’re doing over there. I’ll go any time. I’ll go tomorrow.”

Since 1986, Kinison has been on the road doing about 200 shows a year. He has also done a pilot for Fox television that he’s hoping will become a series.

Kinison said his goals are to do a TV series or a film next year. He has an HBO special in the can, “The Sam Kinison Family Entertainment Hour,” which will air in late February or early March. His performances at the Hilton will include about 40 minutes of material from that show, along with 20 minutes of fresh material. Kinison knows the value of keeping fresh, and he generally quits using jokes after he puts them in a TV special or home video.

Kinison resents comics who don’t turn over their act, who insist on using jokes they know will work. Over and over and over.

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“You’ve got to make yourself come up with something else that good.”

Not doing so isn’t fair to the audience, he complained, saying he needs about six months to write 45 to 50 minutes of fresh stuff.

“I concentrate on entertaining the crowd.”

Kinison will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in the International Room at the Hilton on Mission Bay. Opening act is Pauly Shore, an MTV deejay and comic.

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