COMEDY : Shockingly Mild--for a Former Outlaw

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

Ron Shock came out of the same club in Houston that spawned Bill Hicks, the late Sam Kinison and a boisterous band of like-minded “outlaw” comics whose obscenity-laced humor knew and knows few bounds.

But Shock (his real name) is nothing like those other guys who used to work at the Comedy Workshop back in the early ‘80s. The 49-year-old not only has a kinder, gentler comedy act, he also shuns their one-liner approach, favoring instead a more relaxed storytelling style.

Indeed, in musical terms, Shock is a 33 1/3 LP contrasted with a 45.


Speaking in a deep West Texas drawl, he weaves extended yarns on a variety of subjects, such as driving through Kansas and seeing someone on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, selling van seats. Nothing else. Just van seats. (“I thought, who in the hell buys van seats from a stand on the side of the highway? Is this an impulse buy I don’t know about?”)

Then there’s his 12-minute discourse on Oral Roberts. Shock debates, with geometric logic, the credibility of the televangelist’s claim to having been “eye-to-eye” with a 900-foot-tall Jesus. “Oral never explains whether the 900-foot-tall Jesus was bending over or floating upside down--or if Oral is a lot taller than he looks to be on TV.”

Shock, whose TV credits include “The Tonight Show,” “Comic Strip Live” and “Caroline’s Comedy Hour,” is a master of timing and vocal inflection, and of using just the right mix of irony and understatement to tell a story.

He doesn’t like to be labeled a storyteller, though. “I’m an orator, a raconteur,” he said by phone from his home in Las Vegas. “Storyteller is kind of like ‘tall tales.’ I’m not that. I dissect things, is what I do.”

For one thing, he said, every tale he tells on stage isn’t tall but true. “I can’t write a joke. I could never write. I do a lot of stories and I call them stories, but they’re just comedy recitals on a given subject.”

In his act, Shock “dissects” a bizarre story he read in a newspaper, about the body of a man that was found in a small town in Texas:

“He had been shot five times in the chest with a bolt-action .22-caliber rifle. They found the weapon next to the body. The district attorney and the coroner’s jury determined that this was an obvious, open and shut case-- of suicide! OK, I’ll hit the key points for you again, all right? He was shot five times. In the chest. With a bolt-action rifle. . . . “

Shock proceeds to demonstrate the process of shooting oneself in the chest with a bolt-action rifle, reloading it and then firing again. “You realize,” he says, “that this does get progressively harder with three or four bullets already smack-dab in your chest.”

Shock may have little in common with the so-called outlaw comics, but he has one thing on all of them: He actually was an outlaw, having spent two years in a California prison back in his early 20s.

“I basically started out as a cat burglar at 15,” he said. “Money and jewels is what I stole, and cars to make getaways in. I wasn’t like a common thief”--he laughed--”I was rather selective with what I stole.”

As a teen-ager, he said, he did time in juvenile homes and county jails and on road gangs. He also did a stint in the service. A judge offered him a choice: Either join the Army or go to jail. Three months out of the Army, however, Shock was on his way to prison anyway, for burglary.

“I was caught with half a million (dollars) worth of jewels, and they wouldn’t believe I had found them.”

He says he was a new man when he came out of prison. Being behind bars “made me make a decision: that I’d never do anything that I’d go to the penitentiary for. It didn’t necessarily straighten me out morally . Prison will not do that. Prison is not a place to go straight.” It wasn’t until he was in his early 30s, he said, that he underwent a “moral change” and decided he would never steal from anyone, even if he could get away with it.

As part of his parole from prison, Shock had to find work. He started selling encyclopedias door-to-door and set so many sales records that he was made a national sales trainer. “At this time I really found I had a genuine talent for talking.”

He went on to become a regional vice president of the MacMillan publishing company and later moved to Australia, where he was managing director of British Printing in the South Pacific. By 1981, he was the owner of a successful computer software company in Houston. But he was approaching 40, he said, “and I was incredibly bored with my life.”

He decided to take a couple of years off to go to school. In a theater class, he met actor Hayden Rorke (Dr. Bellows on TV’s “I Dream of Jeannie”). At lunch that day, Shock told Rorke his story about Oral Roberts and the 900-foot Jesus. Rorke told him it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard and suggested that Shock try comedy. A week later, Shock went down to the Comedy Workshop.

“When I walked in the door,” Shock recalls, “I knew what I wanted to do.” He put his business up for sale and has “never done anything but comedy since.”

Who: Ron Shock.

When: Thursday, June 18 and Sunday, June 21 at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, June 19 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 20 at 8 and 10:30 p.m. With Gerry Swallow and Paul Alexander.

Where: The Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine.

Whereabouts: San Diego (I-405) Freeway to the Jamboree Road exit. South on Jamboree, then left onto Campus Drive. The Improv is in the Irvine Marketplace shopping center, across Campus Drive from the UC Irvine campus.

Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

Where to Call: (714) 854-5455.