The world of humor has diverse styles

March 14, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Bob Hope says, "The future of comedy looks pretty good," and the veteran jokemeister (who is 88) offers some pretty good evidence of that in his special tonight.

"Bob Hope and the Other Young Comedians: The World of Laughs, Young and Old" (at 10 p.m. on WMAR-Channel 2) showcases eight younger comics, most of whom are probably familiar to devotees of cable comedy: Jeff Foxworthy, Mark Nizer, Max Alexander, Jeff Cesario, Carol Leifer, Pam Stone, Jeff Dunham and John Henton.

"Every time I see these kids, I think of myself traveling around the country, trying to get started," says the host, although some of the "kids" are at least in their 30s.

Mr. Hope also welcomes older troupers Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller and Betty White (not really a comic but a comic actress) to help introduce the short-routine acts.

The resulting generational contrast seems to show some evolving changes in comedy presentation styles.

Mr. Hope, for instance, has always been an obvious reader of jokes. The same seems apparent for the other older performers here. They essentially perform scripted jokes, albeit in most cases related with fine-honed timing.

The younger stand-ups, especially Ms. Leifer and Mr. Cesario, offer humor routines that seem more personal and spontaneous, even while the viewer knows they are written as carefully as Mr. Hope's gags.

And others need props or thematic gimmicks, such as Mr. Nizer's funny juggling act -- he tosses around a bowling ball, flaming torch and whirring electric knife -- and Mr. Dunham's two-puppet ventriloquist routine.

Mr. Foxworthy trades on his Southern roots with a self-test to learn whether you are a redneck -- one clue: "Has your wife's hairdo ever been destroyed by a ceiling fan?" -- and Mr. Alexander uses his girth for joke material.

*

COMEDY, TAKE 2 -- Mark Russell almost single-handedly keeps the parody song tradition alive in America these days, with his periodic political satire specials on PBS. Now he has packaged a collection of ditties from previous shows for the station's ongoing spring pledge drive.

"Mark Russell's Songbook" airs on Maryland Public Television at 10 p.m. tomorrow, but viewers may find it just fair.

For one thing, the sharp-tongued commentator includes his own pledge pitches in taped material at the beginning, middle and end of the show, which obviously will lead into the wearying studio stuff from Owings Mills.

In addition, although Mr. Russell says up front, "Most of these songs have a pretty good shelf life," the lack of timeliness of most of the songs flattens the humor.

Selected tunes come primarily from the 1988-'90 specials. The newest material is from August of last year.

One can easily admire Mr. Russell's artful combination of funny

lyrics with familiar tunes -- such as the opening "Pardon me, boys, are you the cats who shot Ceausescu?" sung to "The Chattanooga Choo-Choo" about the 1988 Romanian revolution.

His December 1990 welcome home to the Americans held hostage in Iraq and Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, "Give our regards to Baghdad," is funny, too.

But Mr. Russell's PBS specials have always been funniest because they air live and thus are filled with sly commentary on fresh news.

Further, isolating the songs from the context of his well-crafted routines forces viewers to scan their memories about the old-news events, and that retards the laugh response.

COMEDY, TAKE 3 -- Some viewers may want to take him out with the trash, but foul-tongued Andrew "Dice" Clay is back tonight with a new cable special.

"HBO Comedy Hour: Andrew 'Dice' Clay: For Ladies Only" can be seen at midnight on the premium cable service.

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