From Nixon to Clinton, comedian tries for good impression

HIS JOB IS A LAUGHING MATTER

November 19, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

"Mr. President, Mr. President," the reporter shrieks. "Now that the governor-elect of New Jersey, a Republican, has admitted to inhaling . . . does that change your previous explanation on the subject?"

With a practiced smile on his face and his left hand in the patented "thumbs up" position across his chest, the president braces, then responds:

"I'm glad you asked that question," he says. "When I smoke, I don't inhale. When I drink, I don't swallow. And when I make love, I just like to watch."

"Next question."

Comedian Bob Heck frequently does this, breaking into his Clinton shtick at unpredictable times.

Mr. Heck, a member of the political comedy troupe Gross National Product, is a convincing Clinton. Then he's Rodney Dangerfield. A moment later, Richard Nixon pops up from the sofa ("Where's Haldeman? I want the new uniforms!") Then there are visits from the Marx Brothers, a parochial school nun and Inspector Clouseau.

Help!

Gross National Product will entertain the Baltimore County League of Women Voters and its supporters with its "Clintoons" show at Goucher College Sunday. Jean M. H. Jung, a league directors, said the troupe will help citizens better understand their participation in government.

"In order to do that," Ms. Jung said, "people have to understand both ends of an issue or a politician. And is there any better way to do that than laugh at it, make fun of it?"

In the living room of his Mount Washington home, Mr. Heck pokes fun at the Clintons until you think he's about to reach for the oxygen bottle. Then, in the finest accent from the frontiers of New York state, out comes Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato: "Hey, I got two words for you: Joey Buttafuoco."

His wife, Louise Heck, a native Baltimorean, met Mr. Heck at a jazz club in East Hampton, N.Y. A clinical social worker at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, she is also his toughest laugh.

"Bob is Bob to me. When he's home, he's sometimes tired of being other people," she said. "Bob is always high-energy, a surplus of energy. He'll just fly into actual imitations for no reason at all. But anyone beyond me is an audience. . . . I'm no longer qualified as an audience, although he uses me as a sounding board all the time."

Sometimes, she said, life at home with Mr. Heck can be wild. "Like when he had an early gig on television, he woke me and kissed me goodbye that morning in his Clinton stuff. What a weird life, huh?"

Mr. Heck said he likes New York but that "Louise and I like Baltimore better. There's a friendliness here that you don't find in lots of other large cities."

Mr. Heck is easy to find. He appears weekdays on Maryland Public Television as "Bob the Vid Tech" between children's shows. Corporations hire him to perform and pose for photos at business seminars and meetings. He'll play any part.

"I was working a room full of executives for a major oil company when I played a vice president of a public utility to speak on charitable giving," he recalled. "I talked about their little accident with the Valdez. 'Hey,' I said, 'it was only Alaska.' "

GNP's John Simmons, who plays Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Bob Packwood and former President George Bush, described Mr. Heck as "crazy."

"He's been with our group since last summer, and he's funny and fun. And he is the president," Mr. Simmons said.

Mr. Heck's pursuit of irreverence is rooted in his upbringing as one of five brothers and sisters in Queens, N.Y. Three of his siblings died before he was 16, "thus the comedic protection," he said.

"I went to Catholic grammar and high school," he said, wincing. "I started cutting up, doing my impressionist stuff in the seventh grade, at St. Michael's. Impressed lots of the girls, and it was a way to gain control in a very tough, competitive environment.

Playing Bill Clinton at university campuses and theaters with GNP has been a political education, Mr. Heck said. "People are not sure what Bill Clinton stands for anymore," he said. "People can be very nasty about it, too. When I'm in my Clinton character, some of them won't even shake hands with me."

So. . . .

Mr. President, Mr. President, how is that darned North American Free Trade Agreement coming along?

"Glad you asked that question," the guy in the Mount Washington living room says. "NAFTA, the finest cleaning fluid made in America.

"Next question."

COMEDY AT GOUCHER

Who: The Gross National Product satirical troupe.

When: Sunday. Refreshments at 3 p.m., performance at 4 p.m.

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College.

Sponsor: Baltimore County League of Women Voters.

Tickets: $30 each. For information, call the league at 828-8869.

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