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NUT AND POTATO MAN : ‘Morton and Hayes’ Star Kevin Pollak Finds Sarcasm a Staple of the Road

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

Comedian-impressionist Kevin Pollak has largely been absent from the comedy-club circuit since taping his “One Night Stand” special on HBO two years ago.

Although he has made eight appearances on “The Tonight Show” since then, Pollak has been busy with his acting career. The man who had a small part in the fantasy-adventure “Willow” (he played a 7-inch brownie) appeared in “Avalon” and “L.A. Story,” and he plays Denzel Washington’s best friend in the suspense thriller “Ricochet,” due out in October.

This summer, Pollak also co-starred as Chick Morton in “Morton and Hayes,” the highly touted series hosted by Rob Reiner about a fictional comedy team of the 1940s. (CBS aired the last of the six episodes last week.)

But Pollak’s back on the road again, polishing material for a new HBO special to be filmed this fall for airing early next year. On Saturday, he’ll be at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

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“I found it important to test the material on America rather than a jaded Los Angeles audience and, damn it, I consider the people of the Coach House to be American,” explained Pollak, having broken into redneck cadences.

“But,” he added, “the jaded are invited.”

Pollak said his Coach House show is “all stand-up material and my point of view looking at this world of ours, along with some impressions.”

Pollak says his girlfriend is trying to get him to eat right. “She says that nuts are a meat and protein substitute,” he said, slipping into his macho-man voice: “Well, here’s good news because you know there’s nothing I like more than coming home after a hard day at work, cranking up the barbecue and slapping on a thick, juicy walnut. Hell, I’m a nut and potato man.”

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The San Francisco native, who began performing by lip-syncing Bill Cosby routines when he was 10, said his favorite comedians have been those who have their own “true voice.”

And what would Kevin Pollak’s comedic voice be?

“It’s sarcasm, which I’ve gotten from reading Mark Twain,” he said. “The world seems a less painful place to be when looked through the eyes of a sarcastic and cynical fool.”

Pollak’s act, however, is leavened with his celebrity impressions: Everyone from William Shatner, Dudley Moore and Dustin Hoffman to Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Woody Allen.

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He’s also one of the few impressionists who does Albert Brooks, the comedian-actor who played a sweat-drenched TV newsman in the movie “Broadcast News.”

Since virtually “everybody” has his own talk show these days, Pollak will be doing a routine in which Brooks hosts a talk show. The routine is largely improvised, with Pollak bringing up a member of the audience to be interviewed by “Brooks.”

“The basic premise,” said Pollak, “is he’s the sweet-faced, loving talk show host on the air and when they go away to commercial you see the frightened, paranoid, neurotic host fall apart.”

Pollak, who does a dead-on impression of Peter Falk as Columbo (complete with one wandering eye), also has William Shatner down to a T.

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He recalls how the “Star Trek” star helped him when he was 16 and applying for “a real job” at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“I filled out the application and gave it to the assistant manager--you know, Mr. Impressive. He says, ‘I’m not sure you’re KFC material, young man.’ So I hit him with the only weapon I had at the time, which was William Shatner:

“You don’t understand. YOU (pause) don’t understand. Chicken (pause) is my life! Breasts, wings, thighs. (pause) I must deep fry.”

The key to doing Shatner, Pollak explained, is pausing for no apparent reason.

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For all the characters, silliness and sarcasm in his act, Pollak said, he also likes to talk about “real issues.”

“I get a little political,” he said. “I mean, when you have a vice president with the attention span of a salad bar and a President whose heart malfunctions and the whole country has one shared fear: President Quayle. . . . I delve into that quite a bit. And it’s not Quayle-bashing. It’s more poking fun at the system that allowed him to be there.”

And, Pollak said, taking on the familiar strains of the President himself, “I like to have fun with George the Bushman. Always an easier target when he vacations in Kennebunkport, the most vacationing President ever.”

Despite his gift for doing voices, Pollak said it’s not enough for him as a performer to do only impressions.

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“I need more, and I think so far the audience has agreed,” he said. “I thought Rich Little was a great a technician, but there didn’t seem to be any soul there. So I have to have a little fun, if you know what I mean.”

Pollak had slipped into his Jack Nicholson impression, prompting him to ponder whether Jack, “the new father,” has had his pal Warren Beatty, “the expectant father,” over to learn how to change diapers:

“Step back, Warren, this little kid tends to be a sprayer. . . .”

Who: Kevin Pollak.

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When: Saturday, Sept. 7, at 9 p.m.

Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza.

Wherewithal: $15.

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Where to call: (714) 496-8930.


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