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Serious About Stand-up

I’m in a bubble here," Jim Breuer says.

Well, the comedian is really on vacation in Lake Tahoe. But he’s talking about sitting on top of a small world — satellite radio — and how that "doesn’t mean I can sell tickets in Chicago on a Friday night."

"Unless you have Sirius (Satellite Radio), no one has a clue," Breuer says of his "Breuer Unleashed" afternoon talk show. "Although I’ve been there going on five years, everyone thinks I just disappeared off the face of the Earth."

Two years ago, at Chicago’s Improv club, he got a little cocky. "I figured ‘I’ll just roll in here, do my sell-out shows and roll out.’ " Instead, "Everyone was like, ‘You’re so funny. What happened?’ "

People still knew him for his impression of AC/DC rocking "The Hokey Pokey," or for Goat Boy on "Saturday Night Live," but not as a radio host.

"That’s when the reality kicked in," Breuer says. He decided, "The satellite show will always be home, but now it’s time to go out hikin’ again."

The hiking trail brings Breuer to Green Valley Ranch today. His renewed commitment to stand-up is part of a larger push that could bring some of the material developed for radio to basic cable.

Breuer, 41, got in on the ground floor of subscription radio, "when there were less than a half million listeners, before (Howard) Stern was there." It was something he felt like he could do even when he was in the "Saturday Night Live" troupe from 1995 to 1998.

"I just knew this was the future," he says. "When regular guys hang, whether it’s in the break room or wherever, someone is hilarious." With his own friends, he often thought, "If we just had cameras on this group right here." Finally, he realized, "the only place this might work would be satellite radio."

By the time Stern joined Sirius and boosted listenership, "we were already established," he says. "It was like a paid college." His show has become a place where comedians "can come on and not have to be hilarious. People see a whole different side of them. To me, it’s the way talk shows should be, (a way) to really get to know who we talk to."

The cable show that’s in discussion would recycle sketches and material that "fell by the wayside" in the early days. Anything along the lines of "Saturday Night Live" would take viewers full circle to a place where most people met Breuer in 1995.

"By the time I hit TV, I was a pretty solid (club) headliner that just wasn’t discovered yet," he explains. The comedian had a development deal with NBC and was "pushed on ‘SNL’ by the network, which didn’t make Lorne (Michaels, the producer) very happy… The network that year was like, ‘We’re stepping in, and we’re helping cast this.’ "

Breuer overcame that, and his imitation of Joe Pesci became part of the standard impressionist’s repertoire. Even so, "I never consider myself an impressionist," he says. "They study people. I just imitate my favorite people."

But the Pesci mannerisms made it all the way to the "Jersey Boys" musical, where a company member imitates the actor in a few scenes. "I’d say with impressions, it’s a free-for-all," Breuer notes. "There’s no, ‘Hey I did it first!’ No one cares."

Well, Pesci did.

"It was definitely one of the scariest moments for me ever meeting a celebrity," Breuer recalls. "He pulled the whole, ‘What do you mean I’m funny?’ bit, but it really wasn’t a bit. He can say to this day he was joking, but no. He wasn’t happy.

"I think when he realized I wasn’t trying to make him look stupid and that I was really a huge fan, he started toning down his anger toward me."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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