Comedian Ritch Shydner can’t say exactly how to nurture a successful relationship, but he can point out a few ways not to nurture one. For men, anyway.
From personal experience, he has found that:
* Keeping old “art” photos of former girlfriends is probably not a good idea.
* Deviating from diamonds and jewelry to offer up a bathroom scale as a birthday gift is a losing proposition. Shydner refers to this nozzle-head move as “The Great Mistake of ’89.”
* Not realizing you’re in a monogamous relationship is a good way to end it. Swiftly.
For Shydner, all this holds a message. And a comedy routine.
On Tuesday night at the Brea Improv, where he will be performing through most of October, Shydner did a splendid job of mixing that message with mirth.
The Pennsville, N.J., native has been in comedy since the mid-'70s, when he hit open-mike night to talk about the topics of the day--sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. From that crude slab, he sculpted his stand-up gig into the current one-man show, “The Romantic Adventures of Canyon Man,” a theater piece he has whittled down to about 90 minutes of his best stuff.
“It’s a story now,” Shydner said in a Times interview earlier this year. “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. And there’s still problems even after boy gets girl back, but they’re still together.”
It is through those comings and goings, told through the bumbling male perspective, that Shydner’s act reaches appealingly to both sexes.
Men can handle it because he’s obviously talking about the Neanderthal at the next table. Women embrace it because he’s talking about most of the romantic recluses they ever dated, the ones who couldn’t tell the difference between a bouquet and a bathroom scale.
Throughout the show, women clearly came off better than their counterparts.
For much of his act, Shydner uses his wife, Kay, as the devil’s advocate who forces Shydner to think about his actions and their consequences as he segues from dating and dancing to marriage and monogamy.
Though she is never on stage, Kay’s presence is palpable. She is the show’s conscience, the point (voice of reason) to Shydner’s counterpoint (the male lack-of-thought process).
On stage, Shydner’s only props were a bar stool with a back, and a desk holding a phone and a gift.
Big factors for the success of Shydner’s show are his stage presence (that boy-next-door innocence) and the fundamental respect he maintains for those whose all-too-human shortcomings provide the grist for his act. You have to admire his sincerity and commitment to his material. He’s not making this up. He might exaggerate a little, but he’s basically laying out his winding path to a happy marriage for all to see. There’s nowhere to hide.
He is not preaching. He is simply discussing his mistakes, his growth, his learning curve, his conclusions. And the fact that his mannerisms and inflection are remindful of Ed Norton in the “Honeymooners” doesn’t hurt his appeal, either.
In 1982, to expand his career, the comic abandoned the East Coast in favor of Los Angeles. He landed a regular role on Fox’s “Married With Children,” a bit part in the movie “Roxanne” with Steve Martin as well as bits on “Roseanne” and “Designing Women.”
His late night credits include “Letterman,” “The Tonight Show” and “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Last year, he starred in his own HBO special “One Night Stand.”
Fortunately, his act has evolved from his Eastern caveman days. It always bolsters your faith in comedy when a performer exchanges the superficial anatomy jokes for an act with some substance. Even more so when it’s funny as hell.
* Ritch Shydner is scheduled to perform Tuesdays-Sundays through Oct. 28 at the Brea Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Suite A. $7 to $10. (714) 529-7878.