Say it ain't so, Joe!
Comedic actor Joe Piscopo was one of the few bright spots in those dreadful early '80s years of "NBC's Saturday Night Live." So cable viewers would be justified in looking forward to tonight's "HBO Comedy Hour: Joe Piscopo In Concert" special (at 10 on the premium service, with repeats Nov. 6, 9, 12, 18 and 22).
Alas, it is a major disappointment. Piscopo's considerable skill at creating new characters and impersonating familiar figures is on display only intermittently. In fact, there are more laughs in the 30-second beer ads which have been Piscopo's principal national stage in recent years (and some scenes of which we see tonight in a gratuitous opening sequence).
Since his "SNL" days, Piscopo has evidently embraced the sport body-building. So when he strides onstage at UCLA's Royce Hall, you're reminded of Lou Ferrigno as "The Incredible Hulk." But his ego seems to have outgrown even his bulging biceps.
Within minutes, Piscopo has managed to plug (albeit with mock modesty) his recent cover appearance on Muscle & Fitness magazine, and to deny that he has taken steroids to produce his torso development. Then follows an appallingly lengthy sequence wherein he supposedly takes a drug test to prove he's steroid-free. A doctor, accompanied by armed guards no less, speeds his urine on the way to the lab.
This is funny? No, merely uninteresting and tasteless. Yet the doctor returns for the show's climax.
Twice during the show, no doubt to facilitate costume changes, a cartoon is screened featuring a character named "Buff Man," whose voice is provided by Piscopo. Evidently intended as a spoof of super-hero animation, it falls flatter than Wile E. Coyote hit by a boulder.
And a fairly bizarre reference late in the show to a bitter custody battle for his son, complete with the display of a photo of the child, is at best inappropriately personal and maudlin, and at worst the kind of thing that makes custody lawyers rich.
It should be said, however, there are some glimmers of the Piscopo talent here. Best is his droll capture of the mannerisms of talk show host Larry King and late-night comic David Letterman, as well as a pretty funny rap number in which he plays an obese singer.