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An evening with Ellen

Ellen DeGeneres' standup comedy material is more ordinary than edgy, but she still draws crowds because she's just plain funny.

By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 22, 2003

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres performed her standup routine for a packed house Monday night.
CLEARWATER -- Thank goodness Ellen DeGeneres embarked on her recent 36-city standup comedy tour, and praise be that the shows have been filmed for an HBO special. The tour, which stopped for a sold-out show at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Monday, reminds us that DeGeneres, known more in recent years as a pioneer gay television star, is one of standup comedy's most talented performers.

Though DeGeneres broke barriers by portraying television's first gay lead character on her sitcom Ellen, her standup material isn't so edgy. In fact, DeGeneres' stories and whimsical anecdotes about the absurdity of everyday life rely on the ordinary. You don't have to be gay to "get" DeGeneres. Anyone of any sexual orientation can laugh at observations about the remarkable thinness of the toilet paper in public restrooms, the irony of a Starbucks-obsessed caffeinated culture rushing off to yoga classes to seek serenity, or the plethora of advertisements for medications to combat stress or depression.

DeGeneres questioned why folks in our convenience-laden society are so "stressed out." She wondered if tribesmen in Africa, living in the wild, chased by ferocious animals, suffered as much.

"You're not going to find some Pygmy on Paxil," DeGeneres quipped. She wondered about all these newfangled anxiety conditions we hear so much about these days, with special abbreviations: ADD's and OCD's.

"When I was a kid," DeGeneres said, "We just had crazy people -- that's it, crazy people.

An inventive storyteller, DeGeneres adds pizazz to her tales by using gestures, expressive faces and pantomime. Wickedly precise timing is another of DeGeneres' gifts. The comedian often rambles on in a seemingly obtuse string of anecdotes, only to put a stop to it all with one sharp observation that cleverly sews all the "nonsense" together.

Mostly though, DeGeneres is just plain funny. As in, off-the-top-of-her-head funny, as she demonstrated in the show's encore portion, which found her informally chatting with the crowd and answering questions about her upcoming daytime talk show that premieres in September.

It's DeGeneres' quick wit that allows her to riff about her CD collection, noting, as she did early in her show, that she has the Cranberries shelved next to Meatloaf because she thought "it would be funny to organize them by food one night when I was drunk." Later, she said, she tossed in some Bread.

DeGeneres touched on topics as far-ranging as the decline of modern manners, the difficulty of opening a pickle jar, the awkwardness of realizing you've always sung ridiculously incorrect lyrics to a pop song, and the awful torment of wondering just how many of your friends over how many years had heard you sing the stupid lyrics.

It's the kind of humor everyone can relate to -- observations about the world around us that someone as gifted as DeGeneres can make fresh.

-To contact Gina Vivinetto e-mail .

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