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July 20, 1990 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-07-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

kid-kidding about her
daughter Laurie, 17, and her
son, Bradley. "I talk about
Bradley, he's 12, and he's just
a joystick with feet right
now."
Instead of using the old
mother-in-law bits, Zager's
been known to zing her
brother's wife.
"My sister-in-law, when
she's at the clubs, wears a
sign on her back that says,
`I'm not the sister-in-law she
talks about? "
While members of her
family are a source of humor,
they also remain Zager's top
priority. On more than one
occasion, she's turned down
an engagement because she
didn't want to leave her
husband and children alone
on a Jewish holiday, or
because she chose to attend a
family function.
Spdaking of family, Zager
says she received some of her
gifts from a couple of colorful
kin. One of them is her
mother, Harriet Weitz.
"O000000h, she's an
inspiration all right!" Zager
says. "She's a character, but
she's not the kind of person
who realizes that."
Then there's Zager's dad,
Mark Weitz. "My father's a
wonderful storyteller," Zager
says. "That I got from him."

Dana Nessel

D

anew
edy
id on the co m edy
kid
block.
This fall, after she
graduates from the Univer-
sity of Michigan, the 21-year-
old political science major
from West Bloomfield will be
California-bound — setting
out to strike comedic gold.
She'll also be applying to
school — "just in case I go to
L.A. and I'm miserable and I
can't stand all the foreign cars
and personalized license
plates. I've been there. I know
about these things."
Nessel's • stand-up career
began in Ann Arbor. In a
freshman English class, she
took note of a singularly
unfunny jokester who
routinely subjected everyone

)

24

FRIDAY, JULY 20, 1990

to a barrage of bad jokes. He
announced that he'd scored a
huge success at the club
around the corner, which
featured an open-mike night.
Nessel, who always enjoyed
comedy, thought: "If he can
make people laugh, I've got to
give this a try!"
So one adventurous night,
buoyed by the amazing
triumph of the witless
wonder, she_ went down to the
club. Right before her big
debut, Nessel mentioned the
English class clown to the
club manager.
"Oh, my God," the manager
said. "He was terrible. The
worst I've ever seen!" Then
directing Nessel on stage, the
manager said, "Okay. You're
on. Good luck!"
That first night was
terrifying, Nessel says, but it
went pretty well and she
wanted to do it again. She
made the rounds of amateur
nights and became a weekly
regular at the University
Club in the Michigan Union, -
doing 15 or 20 minutes of
material for as many as 300
people.
A few of her bits are
political: "I was very inter-
ested for a while in going into
environmental policy. But I
wanted to combine that with
comedy. So I thought, I could
just work for the
Environmental Protection
Agency."
But she feels political
subjects are often limiting.
It's easy for such jokes to
backfire, she says, because the
audience may have a different
educational
background or
ideology than the
comic.
"That leaves
two universal
topics: television
and sex," she says.
Romance also
gets a fair going-
over in the Nessel
repertoire. A chro-
nic chronicler of
dating depression
— both hers and
other people's —
Nessel says she's
gone so far as to
hold up her phone

number in front of an
audience, paint it on her shirt
or her forehead and even pass
out flyers.
With mock melancholy, she
describes the ordeals of a
woman at "prime-marital
age" whose parents recite to
her, on a weekly basis, the list
of who's getting married:
"Oh. Remember her? You
went to elementary school
with her. You were prettier.
What's the problem?"
Like so many of her
predecessors, Nessel is her
own favorite target as
she makes flippant banter of
female blues.
"I noticed I began to gain a
little weight recently," she
says. "I didn't think it had
gotten that bad until I went
into a size 5-7-9 store and the

"I find myself
telling risque
jokes to people
my parents' age.
And they're
looking at me
like, 'You should
be in bed at
home' "
Dana Nessel



security guard asked me to
leave. But I resisted. I was
bigger than him.
"As if that weren't bad
enough, this total stranger
accosts me on the street and
asks me if I want to audition
for a traveling strip-tease

organization. Maybe you've
heard of them: the
Chippenwhales."
There's a good deal of
preparation behind Nessel's
punchlines. To refine her
craft, she studies the work of
professionals whom she
admires, listening to the
lines, watching the motions
and taking note of the segues.
She's serious about her
funny business and not
particularly fond of the term
"comedienne" as opposed to
"comedian":
"I hate making the
distinction," she says. "I feel
like I'm in France. Comedian,
comedienne. Truck driver,
truck drivesse. I like just
`comedian' better. I don't see
why there's a need to
distinguish between the
sexes."
Nessel is not only a woman
in comedy, she's also a young
woman. And age, like gender,
can create tricky gaps. While
some of her racier remarks
work fine for fellow college
students, Nessel has
encountered a bit of
resistance from the post-
postgraduate generation.
"I find myself telling risque
jokes to people my parents'
age. And they're looking at
me like, 'You should be in bed
at home! What are you doing
here?' "
Undaunted, Nessel plans to
universalize her material
beyond its collegiate base as
she moves into the West
Coast professional world.
She describes her own
parents, Martin and Sandra
Nessel, as gene-
rally supportive of
her comedic aspi-
rations. But when
Nessel takes those
law school apti-
tude tests in the
fall, she'll be
heeding some
'90s-style ma-
ternal advice:
"My mother
always told me,
`Why don't you go
to law school —
just so you have
something to fall
back on: "



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