South Pasadena’s Don Friesen teams up with Anthony Griffith for ‘The Cadillacs of Comedy’
By Carl Kozlowsk 06/05/2008
It might seem that it’s hard to have a nice getaway evening amid today’s economic uncertainties, and if you’ve been with your spouse or significant other for more than a couple of years, you’re already dreading the prospect of being stuck in a rut. After all, how many times can you take your special someone to a night at the Red Lobster, followed by another predictable overpriced movie that never lives up to the trailer?
Leave it to Don Friesen to save the day. A popular headline comic in these parts, thanks to his roots as a South Pasadena resident, Friesen offers the perfect solution for your romantic entertainment doldrums: he’s co-headlining a three-act comedy spectacular at the classy Carlsbad Village Theater in the beautiful seaside city of Carlsbad, giving locals the chance to laugh away the night or even the weekend.
“Dinner and a movie is safe, but with this event you’re getting two nationally known comics who’ve played all over the country with great TV credits,” says the show’s producer, Mark Anderson, whose comedy expertise dates back to the early ’80s, when he teamed with Improv owner Budd Friedman to expand that venerable club into franchise locations nationwide. Offering a sophisticated brand of comedy not often seen in a nightclub setting, Anderson quips that his goal with the “Cadillacs of Comedy” is to bring standup from “class to crass in 4.7 seconds.”
Sharing the bill with Friesen — the only two-time winner of the prestigious San Francisco International Comedy Competition, as well as a veteran of NBC’s “The Martin Short Show,” “Later” and “Comics Unleashed” — are Anthony Griffith, a regular on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and Anderson, who is also a licensed psychotherapist.
Friesen has been making regular weekend trips to Carlsbad for the past two months, since Anderson first teamed the trio in a show called “Love Crazy,” which featured Anderson portraying a shrink and Friesen and Griffith portraying his patients, adapting their acts into material for comedic “sessions.”
“It was challenging to direct my act to another format,” says Friesen. “Instead of stand-up, where I essentially view myself as playing to the audience as therapy, I found myself confessing my real-life anxieties to an actor who, in real life, actually was a therapist, and portraying himself as a therapist onstage — slightly surreal … But it ended up being a lot of fun. And changing the pacing and beats of my act to suit the reality of the play format was definitely great preparation for a one-man show that I’d ultimately like to bring to a theater in Los Angeles.”
“The Cadillacs of Comedy,” on the other hand, is a fun way to bring live standup comedy to theater-going crowds — crowds that might otherwise not be inclined to come out to a show in a club and alcohol-driven atmosphere.
“Ideally we offer a show that will bring you to tears with laughter, but is clever and classy enough that you would be comfortable recommending it to anyone… It’s also a rare chance to work with other top headliners who are typically too busy headlining their own venues to get a chance to work together on the same bill,” he said.
This is as good a time as any for Friesen to build good karma, as his career appears to be leaping to a higher level. He recently released his comedy DVD titled “Inexplicable” nationwide on the comedy label Uproar! and last summer he scored a spot in the vastly competitive Just for Laughs! Festival in Montreal. His CD is gaining popularity through XM Radio’s Comedy Concert Series, Sirius Radio and KLOS-FM’s “Five O’Clock Funnies.”
Friesen has also been making his mark on the LA comedy scene by performing at some of its hottest clubs, including the Laugh Factory and the Improv. The focus on the film and TV capital marks a switch for Friesen, who built his career on lucrative cruise ship appearances, shows for corporations and clubs across the nation.
But traveling comes easily for the rapidly rising comic, who spent many nights as a kid riding up and down California on Greyhound buses his father drove. Not only did those overnight trips give him a taste for travel, but they gave him his first experience working a microphone.
“Dad would take the ‘dead-head’ buses that weren’t scheduled to run from a given city and move them where they could be used more, like from Sacramento to LA, and because we were on the buses alone, I’d get a chance to play around on the intercom and tell jokes to the empty seats,” recalls Friesen. “My dad was always funny on the intercom, but not much of a businessman. He once got the idea from another driver to put his hat out for tips and seed it with a couple of bucks. One time he walked out to do his paperwork and came back to find both the hat and his own money were gone. Most of the humor in our family has always been centered around making fun of ourselves and being self-deprecating, and moments like that gave us plenty of fodder.”
Indeed, Friesen has mined plenty of material from his own life, and he’s the rare comic with a vast array of life experiences — rather than sex stories and tired observations — worth poking fun at. Before he found his calling on stage, he spent years working a slew of unsatisfying jobs that enable him to be instantly relatable to the average working Joe and Jane who make up much of his audiences.
About parenting, Friesen says, “I’m a fun dad, but my wife tells me I’m too fun, that I need to be stricter — the kids need to learn that ‘no’ means ‘no’… and I’m thinking, ‘yeah, but what if I’m raising them to be salespeople?’”
For instance, on trying to buy a house in Southern California: "When I was a kid I always dreamed that some day I'd own a million-dollar home,” Friesen says, “I just never dreamed it would be a 2BR/1BA fixer-upper.”
And “Everyone keeps telling me ‘It’s a great time to buy with all those foreclosures.’ What kind of logic is that? ‘No one else can make their payments, but hey, why don’t you give it a crack?’”
While Friesen loves to tell wild stories about his childhood and adventures with his family, he also brings a manic, highly physical performance style to the stage that has frequently drawn comparisons to Jim Carrey and Brian Regan.
It’s a combination that has brought him a dozen years of constant performance work, and will provide his Carlsbad audiences a memorable night out..
“The Cadillacs of Comedy” is performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at the Carlsbad Village Theatre, 2822 State St., Carlsbad. Tickets are $15. Call (760) 434-5922.