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Steve Young

The Lords of Loud Laughs
Meet Jim Ward
by Steve Young

April 30, 2006—HOLLYWOOD (apj.us)—Jim Ward may not be the funniest man on radio, but if Harry Shearer ever dies...

Let me get the standard fawning journalist disclaimers out of the way. I'm not gay. Really. Look at the pictures of my kids. I am a wannabe, though not sure what I wannabe. So, when I say that Jim Ward, voice guy extraordinaire and sidekick to the sassy, svelte and swell Stephanie Miller (who holds down the funnydom's top spot on the distaff side), is the funniest guy on daily AM/FM today, I'm saying it not because of ulterior motives, but because it's true.

That Miller and Ward are packed into the same show is almost unfair to the competition—and I would hope the FCC would look into it. They are definitely the funniest kids on the left, and with no one even trying on the right (‘cept maybe for Sean Hannity's infectiously irresistible and irrepressible Clinton impression) they've actually cornered both sides of the aisle's laugh market.

(Note: For those at freerepublic.com who might want to consider the "brilliant satire" of Rush Limbaugh, lawyers for the word "satire" have threatened legal action if I used the term within a hundred miles of an El Rushbo reference.)

Comedy on the radio has a long and rich history, from the Jack Bennys and Fred Allens (though there was actually only one of each) to the Credibility Gap (David Lander, Michael McKeon, Shearer and Richard Beebe) to early Imus and Howard Stern. I've skipped over Morning Zoo radio because, well, because I'm only including what's actually funny. Like David Lee Roth.

Ward is an unusual sort; a second banana who knows how to shine without ever stepping on the star's feet. Harvey Korman to Carol Burnett. Barney Fife to Sheriff Taylor. George Bush to Dick Cheney. And just like those stars did with their sidekicks, Miller knows exactly how to capitalize on Ward's talent.

He's Stephanie's go-to man, and not just when she's stuck. Most leading men and women are so insecure they'd never allow a secondary player get the big laugh. God knows I'm not saying that Steph is all that cock-sure (note: I set ‘em up; it's up to the reader to hit it out of the park). I'm just saying she's smart. Smart enough to hire Ward and smart enough to use his talent as much as she is able.

On the air, she'll rave about Ward, and off the air...even more. "Jim Ward is quite simply the funniest man alive, a voice deity, the only person in the world that can make me laugh while I'm crying," said Miller after a tough couple weeks dealing with the loss of a beloved pet when she really needed that support. "I'm very lucky to have him in my life. Plus, he's hot."

Inspired early on by the likes of impressionist David Frye and Mort Sahl, political/social commentary has always been a mainstay of Ward's material. And while a stunning mimic, he swears he has never stooped to the comic impressionist's hysterical, "I think it would go something like this..." set up.

Known to most video game aficionados for his classic turn as Nazi Soldier #3 in "Return to Castle Wolfenstein," Ward derives his additional revenues doing voiceovers, though he has received some face time in TV and movies.

But it is on The Stephanie Miller Show where Ward gets his chance to dazzle and he rarely misses. Those familiar to the show know that Ward's mere mention of Bush saying "toast," or his Hannity litany concerning Katrina's "buses," among a zillion others, are not only killer impersonations, but a sure sign of a hit; show tunes that audiences hum leaving the theater.

While Ward's impressions are right on, it's the content of his material and his ability to capture not merely voice but character that sets him apart from his peers.

His Bush captures the barren sprawl that is the President's thought-process with the simple, "I'm the decider," and W's even simpler war rationale with "Freedom's on the march." At his best when he uses his targets' own words and stylings to rip ‘em a new one. His Donald Rumsfeld soars seamlessly through Rummy's flair for folksy "golly-gee-whillikers" answering of his own rhetorical questions. His inaccurate and untenable answers to "Guess The Quote" are nothing less than a celestial barnstorming tour through I-had-all-but-forgotten-that-name heaven.

This is not to say that Ward isn't beyond stooping for the laugh. His Senator Dennis "Beefy McBratwurst" Hastert rests on the Majority Leader's compulsion for most wursts and near fatal flatulence. His Wolf Blitzer's constipation-packed delivery or his politically-incorrect Asian accent of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il, are but a few of many low-brow, but still funny riffs.

In the all too few times that Ward slips out from behind a character and into Jim Ward, such as his (sometimes not-such a conspiracy) Conspiracy Corner we get some glimpse of the passion and articulate anger that permeates through those who understand something is very wrong. And, breaking a moment from the slobbering sycophancy, if there be one bit of frustration, to date, Ward has not had the inclination to step outside of the show, in front of live political crowds, as Stephanie has, to support an issue or candidate. Ward doesn't believe that at this point his deserves or delivers the cache necessary to change minds, get people off their butts or, in the least, draw an audience. Yet it is his smart mix of humor and appreciation for the political crimes perpetrated today that provides Ward with the unfreaking believable tools to get people to pay attention. Stephanie's self-deprecating style works well for the show, but it doesn't keep her and her celebrity from hitting the streets to carry an important message of change. The substance of any plea is much more palatable to an audience when they are entertained at the same time they're being informed. It would be a shame if someone with Ward's ability, wit and charm, didn't take advantage of what he might accomplish by adding his gifted voice(s) to the political and social battles.

What about the future? The Miller/Ward (and let's not leave out the deft production ability of producer Chris Lavoie) crew makes for the perfect morning political show. But in the realm of great possibilities -- letting Ward be Ward -- Conspiracy Corner just may not be enough. That's not to say that Ward should ever leave Steph. It would be a crime for the audience and for Steph, but what could be interesting is to hear what one hour a weekend might sound like with Jim at the lead. Ward listens to Harry Shearer every Sunday. A cross between Shearer and Steph's Ward, could be potent. It wouldn't make any money. Ask Harry. But I'd give it a listen.

While some artists work best in a secondary performance role, that isn't to say that their importance is any less. Don Knotts was never meant to be a leading man, but once he left Mayberry, I was switching channels. Still, it doesn't hurt to see what giving a guy a chance might mean.

Here's a shout out to Jones Radio and Steph's L.A. home-base management at KTLK-AM. Next time she takes a day off, forget the local fill-ins. Let Jim Ward take the captain's seat. It's about time. It's about possibilities.

 

Steve Young is a Senior Fellow at the Extreme Far Centrist Foundation' Political Husbandry Conservation Centre and Stereo Repair. In his spare time, he is also an author, comedy writer, columnist, LA talk show host and author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful."(What? You STILL haven't bought it? Then visit http://www.greatfailure.com/). You can also check out the satirical side of Steve every Sunday in the LA Daily News.

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