The cable network is tapping acts like Andy Dick and Kathy Griffin for the new stand-up comedy series

By Chris Willman
Updated August 15, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT
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On stage at West Hollywood’s LunaPark nightclub, Andy Dick is veering from his NewsRadio persona into Andy Kaufman territory. ”I’m putting my life in musical theater form!” he explains to a baffled crowd, while a guitarist begins quietly strumming a ballad of childhood post-adoption blues. He sings: ”Diii-ick, what a funny name for a boy…/Diii-ick, was that always your name…?” The tempo quickens. ”Or was it Dickson, Dickotomy, Dick Clark, or Dickless…Dick?”

The audience is laughing — but nervously. ”Very Titanic, that song,” warns host Beth Lapides from a mic at a back table. As founder of the Un-Cabaret — the hep Sunday-night showcase for L.A.’s ”alternative comedy” movement — Lapides interacts with each of the performers and tries to keep the tone improvisational but distinctly un-Improv.

The balance between risk and palatability is especially pertinent tonight, since Comedy Central is taping the evening for the first in a series of Un-Cabaret specials (airing Aug. 23). Happily for the nervous network, the other performers — all guitarless — don’t push the envelope quite so far as Dick: Suddenly Susan sidekick Kathy Griffin tells a wicked story about trying to corrupt Hanson; comic/actor Taylor Negron waxes Proustian on the sensuality of L.A. summers; ex-Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson tells a childhood dead-body story; comedy-club-circuit regular Dana Gould gets fired up about teenage beggars; and then there’s Julia Sweeney.

”The thing that was so revelatory for me about the Un-Cab,” says Sweeney, who developed her God Said, ”Ha!” book/ CD/Broadway show (in which she details her battle with cervical cancer) in the intimate, 100-seat setting, ”was that I could get laughs with things I thought would only be funny to my friend Wendy.”

But everyone has a different take on what this mini-movement represents. Gould and the original Un-Cab gang used to call themselves ”the anti-Lenos” in deference to their emphasis on narrative. To Griffin, the Un-Cab difference is that ”in comedy clubs there are these rules you have to have a laugh every seven seconds, but here they’re patient and they’ll listen to a story.”

Dick, who calls himself ”the loose cannon of the group” (which, on other Sunday nights, might also include Janeane Garofalo, Merrill Markoe, Bob Odenkirk, and Colin Quinn), chides the others for playing it safe for the cameras. ”The Un-Cabaret is supposed to be exploring new ground, more Lenny Bruce-y, more creepy and delicious. [The others] did stand-up, dude,” he protests, ”but I’m showing how you’re supposed to do it! You’re supposed to let go and let God, okay?” Yes, Mr. Clark.

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