From The August 4, 2005 issue of The Philadelphia Northeast Times

 

 

Back in town, for laughs

By William Kenny
Times Staff Writer

Perry Kurtz did not make his annual pilgrimage to his native Northeast Philadelphia last year.

The Los Angeles-based comic and his wife, Sarah, were busy drumming up new material for his stand-up act. They were preparing for the birth of their first child together.

Victoria Susan Arabella Kurtz — Bella for short — hasn’t disappointed in the laugh-inspiring department during her first eight months on the planet. As a result, Kurtz’ longtime fans and relatively new ones can be sure to see a previously unveiled side of the veteran comic when he makes his long-awaited return to the area at the Northeast Comedy Cabaret on Aug. 19 and 20.

The Comedy Cabaret is in the Northeast Best Western, 11580 Roosevelt Blvd. Showtimes will be 9:30 each night. Admission costs $15.

"There’s going to be a lot of new stuff because the baby is new," the 54-year-old former Oxford Circle resident told the Northeast Times. "As a comedian, I’m talking about my life."

Long before Kurtz was trying to teach Bella how to talk and walk, or cleaning up her dirty diapers, he had plenty of other hilarious gags going.

In 1979, he quit his job as an art director at a suburban Philadelphia publishing house and moved to San Francisco in search of an exciting career in comedy. His first job was as a male exotic dancer, despite his admitted "nerdy little guy" appearance.

Actually, Kurtz was the mock opening act and emcee for a real male revue. But he still does a little bit of it in his act today, just to keep folks on their toes.
His eclectic performances also often include a little material about Northeast Philly. "Very little, because Northeast Philly is not that funny," he joked.

He talks some current events — like the Michael Jackson trial — and does a lot of improvisation with audience interaction. "There are some people who start with a script," he explained. "With me, I’m so sensitive to what’s going on (with the audience), I will change midstream . . . I have to find something to make them like me."

In the old days, raunch may have been the name of his game, if only because that’s what certain audiences called for back then. Today, he’s not beyond mixing in some mature references, but depending on the room, he practices more tactfulness and subtlety.

"There’s definitely been an evolution," Kurtz said. At the male strip club, "women wanted that, so I was very dirty in the beginning. Over a period of time, I’ve learned to clean up my act and still talk about adult and sexual matters." Though he’s flown very much under the national radar throughout his career, you don’t survive for 26 years in the comedy biz without impressing some folks and making some influential friends. Kurtz counts omnipresent game show host Chuck Woolery and oft-married actress Zsa Zsa Gabor among his big backers.

For that reason and others, he remains enthusiastic even after all this time.
"I’m hoping to get on TV. The Jimmy Kimmel Live show is looking at me," said Kurtz. "If I get into there, that’s going to open up a lot of doors for me."
Despite his adamant claims that he’s not on anybody’s "A list" as a performer, Kurtz has racked up a bunch of big-time credits since he quit his suburban Philadelphia job and made that move to San Francisco some 26 years ago to pursue comedy.

He’s made appearances on HBO, Comedy Central, America’s Funniest People, and on a particularly jocular 1984 episode of Love Connection, featuring Woolery. He’s rubbed elbows, shared stages and downed drinks with the likes of Robin Williams, Kevin Pollak, Harry Anderson, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay and Whoopi Goldberg, to name a few.

He’s even starting to follow in Williams’ footsteps. It may be a couple decades after the fact, but he’s following. "(Williams) used to hang out with all of us," Kurtz said. "When his baby was born, he was in the comedy club that night talking about it."

While many of his contemporaries have gone on to find fame and fortune, Kurtz has developed into one of the most respected behind-the-scenes professionals in L.A. He’s one of about a dozen joke writers used by Jay Leno for his TonightShow monologue and tutors the next generation of comics on the finer points of his craft.
It took him years and countless original jokes to get into Leno’s trusted inner circle of writers, but that’s no guarantee the show’s producers will pick any of his stuff for the monologue on any given night.

Similarly, he has dedicated so many years to touring the nation’s comedy clubs that he has no intention of giving up the lifestyle, although he has backed off his travel schedule for the time being because of the baby. In a few years, when his stepchildren are old enough to set out on their own, Kurtz plans to take Sarah and Bella on the road with him. "I really love the road. I really like the opportunity of having something new every night," he said. "It never gets boring." ••

For information or reservations for Perry Kurtz’ performances at the Comedy Cabaret, visit www.comedycabaret.com or call 215-676-JOKE. ••

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or
bkenny@phillynews.com