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Bob Zany started his life as a comic getting pulled off stage by a man in a nun costume, but he still calls it a great experience.

"It was 1977 when I auditioned for 'The Gong Show,'" Zany said. "I was 15, I got to the show when I was 16, and I got pulled off the stage. But they paid me $125 and 83 cents, so, if it pays..."

Zany, 54, was the comic equivalent of a garage band at the time, what he calls a "bathroom mirror comedian," but he's come a long way since becoming a full-time comedian in 1984, having headlined clubs, getting roles in the films "Joe Dirt" and "The Informant!" and becoming a regular fixture on "The Bob and Tom Show," contributing the news-skewering segment "The Zany Report."

He'll bring his humor and his trademark cigar, which he uses as a prop on stage, to the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn on Friday.

Zany, born Robert Earl Tetreault, was always a comedy fan, growing up watching Steve Martin, Johnny Carson and Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live." He feels he's grown closer to being himself on stage since his early days in the business.

"I was always trying to be somebody I wasn't: the surfer comedian, the overweight comedian, the throwback comedian," Zany said. "It was still funny, but now I'm as close to me as humanly possible. It's a culmination of everything I've done."

Zany still has throwback elements, like the cigar, which he started using as a prop in the 1980s in reference to older comics like Milton Berle.

"I got to work with him on a roast at the Friar's Club once, that was cool," Zany said. "For some reason, the cigar just stuck."

Zany finds "human experience" funny, saying that he often spends time thinking about something he saw while he was out, thinks of something he would have said had he thought of it, and adds it to his act.

"A woman once came up to me after a show and said, 'I thought you were pretty funny in the beginning, but in the end I didn't like you,'" Zany said. "I don't know what I really said, but in the act, the story ends, 'I thought you were pretty walking over, but now, not so much.'"

The comedian added: "I usually don't say the sarcastic thing that comes to mind, but it doesn't mean it's not going to come back later on."

Zany said that over the years, he has noticed that some comic bits work better on stage than on radio.

"In the act, I'll say, 'If I've offended somebody, how about that,' and it gets laughs because of my expression, but on paper, people just stare at it," Zany said. "On radio, you're doing more topical jokes. It's easier to make four people you're playing to in the room laugh with those than an audience of 200 strangers."

Zany said that he was happy, then, to have different avenues like "The Zany Report" to explore the full breadth of his humor.

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"It's a good venue for jokes that are topical," Zany said. "It's hard to keep them on the road, so you use them there and you're done with them."

His work has been noticed, with the comic getting acclaim from fellow comedians and serving as one of the funnymen asked to play straight men to Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" Even then, he found a way to make people laugh.

"I play Matt's lawyer, and there's a scene where a couple of executives ask, 'Does he need another lawyer,' and I say, 'oh yeah,'" Zany said. "And the way I said it, some of them had to stare at their feet because they were going to start laughing their a---- off. There's a lot of funniness in seriousness."

Zany jokes that he's still touring because he's still getting bills, but acknowledges he's been fortunate in his career.

"I know most of the players in comedy, I'm part of the scene," Zany said. "I've been very lucky."

To purchase tickets, call 348-4000.

Contact Max B. O'Connell at 394-8427 or max.oconnell@rapidcityjournal.com

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