Carol Leifer is always on the lookout for incidents in her life that she can turn into material for her act. Sometimes, a good thing just drops right into her lap.
“When I was in London,” she said recently, “I went to buy some chocolates, and they were really good and really expensive. So the cashier was like, ‘That will be 10 pounds.’ And I’m like, ‘Rub it in, why don’t ya.’
“I mean, certain things just happen,” she continued, on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “It’s like, ‘Well, I couldn’t have a better setup. I think people at home will relate to this.’ ”
Leifer, who’s performing Sunday at the Orange County Fair with Wil Shriner, Wayne Cotter and Bud Friedman, has been doing comedy that people can relate to for a decade now. She is a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman” (she’ll make her 25th “Letterman” appearance in August), she hosted “Caroline’s Comedy Hour” on A&E; for 1 1/2 years and “Leifer Madness” on VH-1.
Leifer (pronounced Leefer) is now editing her third Showtime special, “Gaudy, Bawdy and Blue.” The hourlong show, which will air later this year, is a radical departure from her stand-up act.
The special, which she wrote, is a pseudo-documentary in which she plays a fictional comic named Rusty Berman who, she said, “is a composite of women comedians of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s who were very racy and told a lot of dirty jokes.”
In the special, the Berman character is retired and living in a Florida condominium where she is being interviewed by someone from the BBC. Speaking in a husky “three packs of Luckies a day” voice, the 65-year-old reminisces about her life, beginning in the 1920s.
“I get to play her in four distinct parts of her life,” said Leifer, a Long Island native who majored in theater arts at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
(The cast includes comics Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser as themselves talking about Berman, who has been married seven times--to boxers. Pat Corley, Phil the bartender on “Murphy Brown,” plays one of the ex-husbands, Lucky Herb.)
Leifer’s comedy style is nothing like Berman’s.
“My stand-up act is very clean. I really don’t work blue at all,” she said. “In this special the jokes are pretty racy, but I wanted to do it because I’ve always been a fan of these women who were out there at the time, like Rusty Warren and Pearl Williams and Belle Barth.”
Leifer acknowledged that not many have heard of these women, “but they really contributed to comedy.” Although the nature of their acts kept them from appearing on television during their heyday, “they played nightclubs all over, the true after-hours nightclubs.”
In fact, while doing research for the special, Leifer discovered that Belle Barth “had an album called ‘The 4 a.m. Show.’ I mean, doing shows at 4 a.m. At that time, to go see a comedian doing dirty jokes was a really hip, cool thing to do. Now, you turn on cable and you can see any of these acts at your disposal. This was a time when it was really different and kind of underground.”
Leifer remembers that when she was growing up, her parents had “a lot of these albums, and I do remember as a kid hearing these albums at parties.”
She has a hard time describing her own style. Her stock answer is, “It’s comedy that won’t stick to your dental work.
“I talk a lot about my personal experience,” she added. Topics include being single, growing up on Long Island and going to college. “It’s pretty relatable stuff, I think.”
Pop culture of the ‘60s is another favorite subject, which she tapped for her Showtime special last year, a spoof of “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Remember Petula Clark? “She did ‘Downtown,’ ” Leifer says in her act. “That was her big hit. Remember this song? ‘Don’t sleep in the subway, darling. Don’t stand in the pouring rain. ' . . . I gotta say to myself, ‘What kind of guys is she going out with?” . . . She’s gotta tell them these things? You know, ‘Don’t wash your face with Clorox. Oh, hey, don’t shave with a Ginsu knife. . . . “‘
Leifer says she saw Paul McCartney in concert in New York. “Great show. Unbelievable, you get to see Paul McCartney. On the downside, you gotta see Linda McCartney. Why is she in the band? I’ve never understood this. Other big stars don’t do this. Frank Sinatra doesn’t come out, ‘Ladies and gentleman, on trumpet--my wife, Barbara.”
Leifer’s impression of Linda McCartney playing the organ: “Blue, red, green, yellow. . . . Blue, red, green, yellow. . . . “
Leifer, who is divorced, also talks in her act about being married for four years and how she was “hoping for my marriage to have lasted for five years because a gift for five years is wood. ‘Honey, I know you had your eye on that fur coat, but you’re so special I got you 20 feet of 1-by-8.’ ”
Who: Carol Leifer.
When: Sunday, July 19, at 7 and 9 p.m. With Wil Shriner, Wayne Cotter and Bud Friedman.
Where: Orange County Fairgrounds, Fair Drive and Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.
Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to the Fairview Road exit. Head south. The fairgrounds are on the left.
Wherewithal: Free with admission to the fair, which is $2 to $5; free for kids under 6. Parking is $3, free if there are four or more in the car.
Where to call: (714) 751-3247.