COMEDY : Bradley Has Cleaned Up His Act

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

Comedian Dan Bradley says he doesn't drink any more, but his old man still does.

"My dad drinks beer all day long," says Bradley. "My father used to ask me if I really thought it was just a coincidence that there are 24 hours in a day and 24 beers in a case. . . .

"I love people that drink beer and deny they're ever drunk: 'Hey, hey, it's just beer. Beer's like Pepsi to me.' No, it's not. I've never seen anybody drink a 12-pack of Pepsi and pee on their own car. Or seen somebody wake up with an ugly person and go, 'Oh, man. . . . I'm never drinking Pepsi again.' "

Bradley, who's headlining at the Irvine Improv this week, is not kidding when he says that he gave up drinking. Giving up booze is just one of the changes the 14-year veteran comic has made since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis five years ago.

Indeed, Bradley is not the same comedian he was when he was plying the club circuit in places like Minnesota, Kansas and Iowa during the '80s.

"I was a real club comic," said Bradley, who relied heavily on blue material in his act. "I used to be real fast-paced and loud and I used to drink a lot."

Doing one-nighters in "little dumpy places where people are drunk," he was a crowd-pleasing hit: "I was the King of the Midwest. I thought I was going to be a big star."

But then he moved to Los Angeles and, he said, "they just hated me."

"They" being club owners and managers. What Bradley learned was this: "You have to be clean and clever to make it in L.A."

That point was driven home three years ago when he auditioned for the Improv club in San Diego.

"I thought I was killing in the Midwest, so I'd kill (out here)," he said. "I did kill at this Improv. It was late, the third show. I followed (hot comic) Bobby Slayton, and I killed."

Bradley may have been a hit with the late-night crowd, but he bombed with management.

Recalls Bradley: "I said (blank) probably 10 times in an audition, which is unheard of. I was drunk, did (phallic) jokes. I remember the manager telling me, 'You're horrible; you're just doing it all wrong.' "

It was, Bradley said, "the biggest disappointment in my career at that time. I went there thinking I knew everything and I left thinking I didn't know anything. . . ."

Eventually, he started writing a different style of comedy. He dropped the sex jokes and developed what he calls "this weird character, kind of an absent-minded know-it-all" who wears a short-sleeved shirt worn outside his khaki pants. ("I used to dress up, but it just doesn't fit that character.")

On stage, Bradley is the kind of guy who says:

* "I just read a survey that said they interviewed a hundred women and they asked them what do they do when they see a guy they get the hots for. And they said they ignore him. Hey, are the women after me or what?"

* "I was in Memphis. They hated me in Memphis. You know what I said to get them mad at me in Memphis? I said I came this close to seeing Elvis--and then my shovel broke."

In changing his approach to comedy, Bradley also discovered that "I can stare at a wall and get a laugh, or milk a laugh with a look rather than screaming."

The dramatic change in style is paying off. Last year Bradley made his national television debut on "An Evening at the Improv." He was asked back to do a repeat performance and he's now working on lining up other national TV shows.

Changing his style in mid-career didn't come without a price, however.

"At first it hurt because all those old clubs (in the Midwest) thought I was losing it," Bradley said. "I went back to those old clubs in Minneapolis and they said, 'You're not funny.' But I went back to the Improv and they said, 'Hey, you're funny.' "

These days, he said, "I'm just being myself. I used to think I was this slick, loud guy and I really wasn't. I was a weird, offbeat guy.

"It's a lot more fun being yourself."

Who: Dan Bradley.

When: Thursday, July 2, and Sunday, July 5, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, July 3, at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 3, at 9 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine.

Whereabouts: In the Irvine Marketplace shopping center, across Campus Drive from the UC Irvine campus.

Wherewithal: $7 to $10.

Where to Call: (714) 854-5455.

MORE COMEDY:

Bobby Collins, who casts himself as the hapless hero of his hilarious yarns, headlines through Sunday, July 5, at the Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea. Appearing with Collins are Gerry Swallow and Lee Allen. (714) 529-7878.

Georgia-born comic Greg Ray, a Laff Stop favorite, headlines through Sunday, July 5, at the comedy night club at 2122 S.E. Bristol St., Newport Beach. Sharing the bill with Ray is Darrell Pinsky. (714) 852-8762.

An improvisational troupe that includes Robert G. Lee, Jennifer Rollings, Reno Goodale, Bob Aguayo, Franchie San Pedro and Brian Craft performs Friday and Saturday, July 3 and 4, at Comedy Land in Tibbie's Music Hall, 16360 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. ((714) 979-5653.

COMEDY LISTINGS, Page XX.

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