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For Negron, It’s Totally Cool to Be Unhip

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Picture, if you will, Taylor Negron--actor, comic, writer, who speaks no Spanish--singing “Big Spender,” this iconic Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields tune, in front of 2,000 people at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City . . . and finally connecting with his inner Latin self. For it was this experience, penning and starring in the music and dance review “Latin Sol,” that proved an epiphany for the blue-eyed, Glendale-born Puerto Rican, who can only now lay claim to being the embodiment of the “Pan-Latino” male.

Yes, Negron’s road to enlightenment has been long and twisted, paved over with the occasional industry rejection, in spite of being first cousin to Chuck Negron, lead singer of Three Dog Night, and having played the pizza boy who delivered that high-caloried pie to Sean Penn in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

But Negron, at 42, has finally arrived: Besides owning a castle in the south of France and living in the cozy West Hollywood digs formerly occupied by Nina Foch, he is having a banner year. He starred in an indie film, “The Fluffer,” a poetic look at love set in the San Fernando Valley porn industry that recently bowed at the Berlin Film Festival, and he wrapped a TNT movie, “Call Me Claus,” with Nigel Hawthorne and Whoopi Goldberg (she plays a female Santa to Negron’s edgy elf, to air in December). There’s also his radio show, “The Urban Home Companion,” that has been picked up by Comedy Central for Web broadcast.

But the icing on Negron’s cake--his newfound inner Latino dude just happens to be the well-dressed nanny to those darling teen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, video and fashion moguls, and former stars of the hit TV comedy series “Full House.”

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Negron is Manny Del Valle, and he’s in the midst of taping 22 episodes of the Fox Family series “So Little Time.” Slated to debut in June, the show revolves around the 14-year-old girls as they divide their time between separated parents (“Coach’s” Clare Carey and “Caroline in the City’s” Eric Lutes), who live in the tony Malibu Colony.

Manny, who speaks with a heavy Spanish accent, keeps everyone grounded. From the confines of his dressing room on the Universal Studios lot, Negron reveals at least some of his dreams, aspirations and latest musings. Looking particularly fit (he can be found most early mornings at the gym, working out in sockless saddle shoes and hip-riding, baggy plaid shorts), he has a face that’s a map of concentrated openness, his wide eyes missing nothing. Ultimately, though, it’s the voice--mellifluous and resonant--that commands attention.

“I’ve come full circle,” says Negron, munching on pasta before he goes into hair and makeup that will enable him to utter such lines as “Joo want cute food? I give joo cute food,” which Manny will say to his charges. Negron’s comic path began when he starred in “Easy Money” with Rodney Dangerfield in 1981.

“I played Julio, a Puerto Rican from Staten Island. And now I’m Manny, the post-Ricky Martin male, who’s as comfortable on the football field as he is in a kitchen, the dance floor or [wearing] a gown.” Negron’s not joking. Mixed with his heritage is some Jewish blood, and he admits he’s got a jones for clothes, obsessive cleanliness and lineage. “Latin Sol” is a tribute to 1950s Latin music as seen through the eyes of his parents. For underneath the wisecracking veneer is someone devoted to the notion of family, a key element of the TV show.

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Negron also views the series, which was created by Eric Cohen and Tanya Hurley, as Comedy 101. “Or the ‘Parent Trap,’ without the trap,” quips Negron. “The kids are observing a dysfunctional relationship, and then there’s Manny. I love the idea that you’re going to see a stereotype in a new way--a man playing a maid in a coat and tie. My prototype is Shirley Booth, TV’s first maid, ‘Hazel.’

“Seriously, this is a very funny show and I feel like I’m on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ or ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ You see people behaving nicely and being part of something that is overtly decent.”

Because the target audience is 14 and older, Negron says he feels a responsibility to put something on the tube that parents can watch with their kids, while, at the same time, bringing a certain dimension to his character in a broad, funny way.

“Manny has an arrogance and an elemental machismo,” he says. “A lot of Latin males wouldn’t be caught dead picking up a sponge, but I’m a product of the feminist movement, and [while] most people have been tempered by the women’s movement, he’s been tempered by what he does. He’s taking care of precious cargo.”

This precious cargo speaks highly of Negron, as well. Breaking from work for a moment, Mary-Kate gushes, “He is soooo funny. Oh my God. He’s completely hilarious. Sometimes I can’t even do the scenes with him without totally cracking up.” Ashley adds chirpily, “We love him so much.” But if it seems that all the congeniality being spread around the room is going too far, Negron blurts out: “The show is so archly unhip that it becomes dramatically hip.”

And Negron knows hip. He cut his teeth in stand-up comedy, often performing three shows a night. His droll, astute delivery has served him well. He had his breakout moment with Johnny Carson in 1989 on “The Tonight Show” and his own HBO special, “One Night Stand,” in 1992. He’s also graced the small screen in “Seinfeld,” “The Hughleys” and “Friends.” And let’s not forget that he had his legs cut off on “ER.”

Indeed, Negron cites Lucille Ball as his comic mentor. The legendary redhead was teaching an eight-week class at Sherwood Oaks Film School on Hollywood Boulevard in the late ‘70s. Negron was an intern, assigned to bring Ball her Pepperidge Farm cookies, bourbon and Pall Malls. “Lucy gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten in show business. She said, ‘When playing drunk, speak slowly and clearly. And don’t ever produce a show about helicopters.’ ”

Negron hasn’t, although his film career--more than 40 credits in the last two decades--has included a wide range of parts in movies such as “Angels in the Outfield” and “Nothing but Trouble.” Negron also received kudos for his nasty portrayal of pistol-happy Milo in “The Last Boy Scout,” where he says he did “serious damage to Bruce Willis’ [butt].” For this Negron was nominated for Best Death Scene at the MTV Movie Awards. “But I lost,” he says, sans bitterness.

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Should Taylor Negron become a household name, the indefatigable actor, who still loves performing comedy before a live audience, will take it in stride. But if the pressure becomes too much, he says he could always retreat to his French castle. “Until then,” he admits, “every day I have a France moment. I have wine with lunch and then a nap.”

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* Taylor Negron hosted the American Comedy Awards for comedycentral.com earlier this week (available on the Web all month) and appears at Un-Cabaret, at HBO Work Space, the Melrose Theatre, 733 N. Seward Street, 7:30 p.m. Sunday. (323) 993-6099. Free.


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