CARRYING ON THE TEACHINGS : Carl LaBove Worked a Lot With, and Learned a Lot From, Sam Kinison

Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly writes about comedy for OC Live!

Carl LaBove, who is headlining at Bruce Baum's Comedy Crib in Fullerton through Sunday, is so theatrical a performer that his act has been likened to a high-speed film festival featuring his greatest influences: Peter Sellers, Bruce Lee and Robert Duvall.

Rather than a typical monologue, he will do a series of set pieces. For instance, in a routine on "bodybuilder dates," he portrays a dude who picks up a girl--literally--at her house and takes her to a club where his dancing consists of various bodybuilder poses.

In a bit on baldness, he notes that losing your hair is no big deal, but there's one drawback: "You're going to sweat and, of course, there's nothing to stop the water from running down your head." Whereupon, he becomes a bead of sweat skiing down a bald pate:

"Hey, no trees!" he shouts, schussing madly down the scalp. "Find his nose!" he cries, holding his arms to his side and sailing proudly off the ski-jump proboscis.

His TV appearances have been somewhat limited, but he says that's by choice.

"They burn up your material."

LaBove should be familiar, though, to many who attended Sam Kinison concerts or have seen the "Sam Kinison Banned" concert videotape: He came up in the same comedy clubs as Kinison and toured with him for seven years.

He was with Kinison on the way to a show in Laughlin when their car was hit head-on by a drunken driver. LaBove was holding Kinison when he died.

They met in 1979 at Houston's Comedy Workshop, where both made their stand-up debuts on the same night. At the time, Kinison was only two weeks out of the ministry; LaBove had studied acting in Los Angeles for three years and had spent the previous six months playing semi-pro baseball in League City, Tex.

"I just read in the newspaper one day that they had a comedy club opening up, and I went down to watch," he recalled recently over the phone. "I wanted to see what stand-up was like." He was so "enticed" by what he saw that he went home, wrote five minutes of material and returned the next week for a tryout.

When he was finished doing his five minutes, he was approached by Kinison, who complimented him and asked if he'd stick around to watch his tryout.

"He was very funny," LaBove said. "We were the only two guys who weren't afraid of the audience (because) I had acting training and Sam had stage strength from being a preacher."

LaBove's theatrical style hasn't changed. "I call myself a 'scene-ist'; I do comedy scene work. I bring up a subject and then I perform it. It's not jokes. One of my bits is the life of an actor: I'll do one character who goes in to read for a movie four different times, at four different times of his life."

During the routine, LaBove's actor character undergoes a metamorphosis: First he is "cocky, then a little humbled, then about to give up, then he's lost" and has become a street bum.

"That's derived from all the actors I've met over last 12 years in Hollywood. All my material is written with a base of reality and then taken one step further: It's the way I saw it, or lived it, and I just put a comedy touch on it. It's very adult, for an open-minded crowd."

During their years together, Kinison and LaBove were part of a group called the Outlaws of Comedy. "We didn't go by the rules," LaBove explained. "We didn't do Vegas; we weren't doing stand-up on the Strip. We were really wild, and when we were in town they knew they were going to get real comedy. If they wanted safe comedy, they watched TV."

In September, LaBove joined Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, James Carrey, Richard Belzer and other comedians at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim to tape "A Tribute to Sam Kinison," scheduled to air on the Fox network May 23.

Elaborating on their friendship, LaBove noted that "very few people are lucky enough to meet a friend, a brother and a mentor all in one person. All I can say is I've had that friendship and will carry on every strength and word that was given to me from him.

"One thing Sam taught me is to not give up on an idea. Sam had some ideas in his head for two and three years at a time. Most comedians will find a topic they'll think is too strong to talk about, so they won't dig into themselves to find out what they really feel about it.

"The lesson I learned from Sam is to always question yourself about the things you see, and if it takes years, it takes years. But it's usually an answer to a question everyone thinks about."

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