Hermosa Beach, Calif. -- The idea of Kato Kaelin doing a stand-up comedy routine is funnier than his actually doing it.
America's Houseguest, a less-than-conclusive witness in the O. J. Simpson trial, will open for veteran comic Louie Anderson in June in Las Vegas. He recently tested some of his material before a live audience for only the fourth time in his life. In the process, his Comedy and Magic Club appearance became the most bizarre collision between real life and pop culture since Bill Clinton wailed away on saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show."
Currently, the novelty of having such a tabloid sensation feebly attempting to crack wise on a comedy stage is enough for audiences to forgive his forced delivery and lame gags, and overlook the queasy circumstances that have thrust him into the public eye. If you can't beat the guys mocking you, he seems to be reasoning, join them. But if Mr. Kaelin has any real interest in making a career out of this, he must locate joke writers who can feed him edgier, more focused -- or at the very least funnier -- material.
Mr. Kaelin was brought onstage almost apologetically, with an epic "give the guy a chance" introduction. Taking the stage, he turned to a woman in the crowd who was about to get married and asked, in what at least seemed like a cagey ad-lib and got a huge laugh, "You guys need a witness for the wedding?"
From there, it was joke after joke about Kato's status as Poster Child for Slackerdom.
* On filling out his tax form: "It took me seven hours to answer one question -- occupation."
* On his family: "I was raised with six siblings. We had a four-bedroom -- guest house."
* On his celebrity: "I'm thinking of changing my name to The Witness Formerly Known as Kato." . . . "You know me as a witness, but in truth I haven't been with the Jehovah's for 10 years now." . . . "I was given a key to the city by Mayor Riordan -- it's the first time I've had a key to my own place."
He spoke of a toy manufacturer's Kato doll, which "comes with its own guest house."
And this is his stronger material. Unemployed drummers take note -- this guy needs someone who can deliver heavy-duty rim shots.
To be fair, you can see worse in any club in L.A. on any given night. Even if Kato is a dullard, he exhibits a boundlessly amiable self-deprecation (though if you're Kato, you pretty much have to).
Mr. Kaelin's curse in comedy is what forced Marcia Clark to declare him a hostile witness -- his eternally smiling eagerness to please. Given the grisly nature of his celebrity, he can never be considered an innocuous lark. Hence, his material is too watered-down, too vapid to attack the idiocy of the trial, the idiocy of Mr. Simpson's defense or the idiocy of his celebrity.
He could, if properly induced, raise exploitative hackdom to an art form. Certainly, he's in on the joke enough to do so. Let him reveal some cynicism, and equally cynical audiences would accept him whole.
His closing joke, of the knock-knock variety, sums up too conveniently his dilemma: Knock-knock. Who's there? Kato. Kato who?
"Believe me," exclaims Kato, "in six months, that is my biggest fear."