Okay, maybe not dead dead. The local comic legend has still got a few days left before he's laid to rest at the completion of his farewell performances at the Comedy Showcase. But the creator of the stage persona, James Ladmirault, lives on. That's saying a lot for one of the original "Texas Outlaw Comics," which includes the deceased Sam Kinison (car accident) and Bill Hicks (cancer). "I plan to drive very carefully going to L.A.," says Ladmirault, who will try his hand at penning a few sitcoms under his birth name.
The comic has made frequent television appearances, including Showtime's Full Frontal Comedy and A&E's Comedy on the Road, and has even done a previous tour of duty in L.A., but Swamp City kept luring him back. Ladmirault insists his return wasn't some feeble attempt to cling to the past, but more like an honest attempt to ensure Humidity City remained the national hot spot it was in the '80s. "There was a real excitement," Ladmirault says of the time, when simply saying you were from Bayou City gave you respect. To help keep Smog City (gettin' annoying, isn't it?) a yuks capital, Ladmirault created the Comedy Sweatshop, where up-and-comers could learn their craft, and organized the Comedy Festival, a sort of "Sundance for comedians." (Andy Huggins and Joanie King will run the two programs in his absence.)
Houston isn't as image-conscious as Austin or San Francisco, and the people are more accepting of edgier and more honest routines. "I would not be the comic I am today if it weren't for Houston," says Ladmirault. "Houston is real. It gets hot, you get pissed off .You have all types." But when Ladmirault's writing samples drew the interest of Messina Baker, the powerhouse responsible for managing Tim Allen's and Drew Carey's careers, the siren song of the West became too enticing to ignore. "[Moving to L.A.] is how they judge how serious you are," says Ladmirault, who's looking forward to taking his comedy to the next level.
The comedian first came to Houston after he booked a night at the Comedy Workshop. He had never performed before and promised himself to join the Peace Corps if he flopped. Obviously he did all right. More than just a convenient way to sidestep the unpronounceability of his last name, Ladmirault's alter ego grew out of a nickname given him in college because of his trademark white pants and Hawaiian shirt, a rarity at the time. Over the years, however, the character of James Pineapple Esq. became too restricting, and the act slowly evolved more and more into Ladmirault. (He abandoned the shirt 16 years ago.)
Known for often being controversial, Ladmirault has a few favorite targets, including pop culture, celebrities and rebel-poseurs who project an image of being against the system while embracing it. "Rebels don't work for corporations or marry Brooke Shields," Ladmirault says. His conversation is often peppered with potshots at the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, Britney Spears and Cindy Crawford. "The devil doesn't have to do any work anymore," he says. According to Ladmirault, Bill Hicks used to joke about Mephistopheles paying a visit to Michael Bolton in his high-rise apartment to claim his soul. "You fool!" Bolton replies, according to the fantasy. "I have no soul -- even MCI does a credit check!" (Sadly, Ladmirault could never convince Hicks to include that in his act.)
The move to Hollywood does provide some obvious pitfalls. "My fear is to become like one of those," Ladmirault admits. In a time when rebellion and individualism is packaged and marketed to sell soft drinks, and advertisers comb the hippest SoHo galleries to steal ideas for their Gap ads, it's difficult to know how not to sell out. "To be yourself," Ladmirault suggests. "That's the only thing a corporation can't touch."
Once Pineapple is gone, that's the only thing Ladmirault can be.
James Pineapple Esq. passes away Thursday through Sunday, July 20 through July 23, at 8 p.m., with extra performances Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. The Comedy Showcase, 12547 Gulf Freeway. For more information, call (281)481-1188.