PET PEEVES : Ellen DeGeneres Is the Female Gary Larson, and Then Some

Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

Ellen DeGeneres' cat is in heat for the first time, and the animal has changed considerably.

"I can't play my Luther Vandross albums anymore; she goes wild ," says DeGeneres. And that's just for openers: the formerly "adorable little pet" has taken to wearing makeup, and millions of male cats stand outside the house smoking cigarettes, just waiting for her to come out.

"One of them disguised himself as a UPS man," DeGeneres continues. "He had the truck, the packages, everything. I was not falling for that. The suit was just hanging off of him. The little name tag said 'Fluffy.' . . . 'I will NOT sign here. Scoot!' "

DeGeneres, at the Brea Improv tonight through Sunday, is well known for taking a simple premise and developing it until it reaches an absurd conclusion. Animals are a favorite topic--so much so that one critic likened her to cartoonist Gary Larson, whose "Far Side" features animals with human-like qualities."

"You never see big dogs wearing a sweater," DeGeneres says. "My neighbor's dog has a sweater, but he wears it just wrapped around his shoulders. . . . It looks pretty with his eyes."

DeGeneres doesn't talk just about animals in her act. There's also, for example, her grandmother, who started walking five miles a day when she was 60. "She's 97 today. We don't know where the hell she is.

"Most of my stuff is very weird. It's reality based, but it doesn't stay there," DeGeneres said by phone from her Hollywood Hills home last week. "I talk about gum disease, but it's not really about gum disease, and I do a story where I end up being adopted by Iroquois Indians. . . .

"It's always been sort of weird stuff like this. I never really started out as a joke-teller."

DeGeneres' stories have made her a favorite in comedy clubs around the country. She is a frequent guest on "The Tonight Show" and has starred in her own HBO special, "One Night Stand." And at the recent American Comedy Awards, after two previous nominations, she was named Best Female Comedy Club Standup.

"I felt totally shocked. I think it was really exciting because my parents were there with me. They actually got me more excited. My mother started screaming; You'd think she was some kind of wrestler's mother. She keeps rewinding (the tape) to see if she embarrassed herself as much as she thinks she did."

Because the award is based on votes from comedy club patrons around the country, DeGeneres didn't think she had a chance of winning this year. Because she was a regular on Fox's (now-canceled) "Open House" series last year, she had been doing only about two weekends a month on the road--not enough, she figured, "to be in people's minds."

In fact, she said, she's at the point where she only goes on the road "if I need new French doors or some new pants."

Growing up in New Orleans, DeGeneres was not a class clown. "I think a lot of people didn't realize I was funny," she said. "My friends knew I was funny. (But) I was very dry, and so a lot of times people didn't know I was kidding or not."

Before getting into comedy, DeGeneres worked at a variety of jobs, including selling clothes and working as a waitress. She was, she recalls, "totally lost. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life."

Then 10 years ago, when she was 23, some friends asked her to perform at a benefit. Someone in the audience ended up booking her into a coffeehouse. "It just kind of fell on my life. What I found out was, I was good at talking to people." She paused, then added, "What I found out was, I could get paid for what I was getting fired for."

DeGeneres won Showtime's Funniest Person in America competition in 1984 and hasn't stopped talking since. Here she is on those animals again:

"I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls and they always say it's just such a beautiful animal. I think my mother's attractive, but I have photographs of her."

Who: Ellen DeGeneres.

When: Thursday, April 18, and Sunday, April 21, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, April 19, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 20, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.

Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange (57) Freeway, go west, turn left onto State College Boulevard and right onto Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.

Wherewithal: $7 and $10.

Where to call: (714) 529-7878.

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