Watching Jerry Lewis and the Marx Brothers in movies made a huge impression on comedian Jeff Wayne when he was a kid.
That influence launched him into a career of making people laugh, especially with his stage comedy show Big Daddy's Barbecue, which comes to the Power House Theatre in Walla Walla for a two-week run starting June 23.
"When I was a kid, Jerry Lewis was a big star in the movies," Wayne said in a telephone interview with the Herald.
Later, when Wayne pursued his own comedy career, he credits Lewis with showing him the way.
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"My comedy isn't like his, though I did emulate him for a while in the beginning," Wayne said. "What Jerry did was help me find the joy in humor."
Big Daddy's Barbecue takes the audience on a slap-happy trip to Big Daddy's backyard barbecue, where he spews his flagrant opinions around as easily as he flips burgers.
Whether it is the sinfully high price of gasoline, political rhetoric or moronic zeal of a terrorist, Big Daddy has a thought about it all to share, and his philosophy sounds an awful lot like Will Rogers.
"This is definitely a play, a one-man show with two acts, costume changes and music," Wayne said.
Big Daddy is a mailman who is always spouting off his opinion whether it's the relationship between men and women or dodging his wife's presence.
"You'll never see Phyllis (Big Daddy's wife) during the show, but you'll definitely know her by the end of the show," Wayne quipped.
Wayne pokes as much fun at himself as he does with the topics he addresses in his shtick, which could be why National Public Radio described him like this: "Wayne has the face of Fred Flintstone and the attitude of Al Bundy."
But another reason his road show is such a hit is because it's directed by another funny man, Ted Lange.
Lange, who played Isaac the bartender on the long-running Love Boat series during the 1970s and '80s, sees himself more as a director than an actor, though he still gets in front of the camera from time to time.
"If you're lucky, choices open up, and I fell into directing several years ago," Lange said in a phone interview. "I think my strengths lie in the fact I understand the needs of an actor and know when he's in trouble and can turn (a scene) around."
Wayne sought Lange out to direct his comedic play a few years ago, knowing Lange's knack for directing.
"After the first week of rehearsals, I hated him," Wayne joked. "But Ted is a great director. He's also a huge Shakespeare fan. And did you know he was in the national tour of the musical Hair? Yeah, he ran around the stage naked with the rest of the cast."
Lange laughs at the reminder that he did, indeed, run around naked in Hair, but "I was a much younger man then," he said.
But Shakespeare is his great love.
"When I was 14 years old, I played the lead in Macbeth," Lange said. "And in my junior year of high school, I played in Macbeth again. This time, I was Banquo. Then, at 18 years old, I joined a Shakespeare troop in San Francisco and I was cast as Romeo ... Juliet was white. It wasn't until I got to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival that some actor informed me the most difficult plays to do were the Shakespearean ones.
"By that time, I was already in love with the words of the Bard and didn't see it as difficult."
But comedy is the next best thing to Shakespeare.
"Jeff is one of the funniest guys I've ever met," Lange said. "He has a terrific sense of humor and audiences love him."
Lange, who no longer sports the infamous mustache from the Love Boat days, said he stays in touch with some of his costars from Love Boat, like Bernie Kopell, who played the ship's doctor, and Fred Grandy play Gopher on the series.
Big Daddy's Barbecue is a family friendly show, though Wayne says he understands not everyone takes kindly to his brand of humor.
"There are no sexual jokes, and the language is not too harmful," he said. "I'd recommend it for the whole family."
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org