Being on reality TV is much like your first sexual experience: It's your golden opportunity to either shine or -- ahem -- blow it.
Comedian Gary Gulman used virtually every moment of his time on NBC's reality series Last Comic Standing to shine. The chiseled, six-foot-six native Bostonian dispatched stand-up opponents with observational rants on things like sugar cookies: "Every cookie has sugar," he argued. "If a cookie doesn't have sugar in it, it's a cracker." He even managed to muster a cackle out of dusty comic Phyllis Diller when he called her "the antidote to Viagra" during a roast.
Gulman survived to the final round, which pitted him against cast members Alonzo Bodden and eventual winner John Heffron. Now he, Bodden and fellow LCS alum Jay London are taking to the road with the "I'm Still Standing Tour," which opens this Thursday at the Improv. Gulman says the show's success has netted big dividends for the tour. "I'm no funnier than I was six months ago," he says. "But now that I've had television exposure, the shows sell out. Last year, at a place like the Houston Improv, I could've come in with someone else and they would've let me do 20 minutes. But now I'm on the marquee, so it's really changed everything."
Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway, suite 431
8:30 p.m. Thursday, November 4. Show runs through Sunday, November 7; for tickets and showtimes, call 713-333-8800 or visit ww w.improv.com. $17 to $20
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Back in the early '90s, Gulman was working as an accountant. The former college football player owes his career change to Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. "I saw Shawshank Redemption," he says. "I felt I was in a hopeless situation, and I saw that prison as a metaphor. The next day I went in and quit my job." While he jumped on every stand-up opportunity he could find, Gulman paid the rent working as a waiter, a bouncer at a nightclub, a substitute teacher and a Starbucks barrista. Later, he'd land gigs on The Tonight Show and a few network development deals, including a current one at NBC. "So I've had some success," he says, "just no exposure." Until Last Comic Standing, that is.
His newfound exposure has him meeting all the right people in the industry, not to mention hordes of women. "I hear about these people who date people from the gym and use it as a meeting place," he says. "I've never met anybody there. Then one day this woman comes up to me and says, 'Are you Gary Gulman?' and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' You know, I thought maybe my membership had expired."
Gulman promises to be a hoot, if only because it's refreshing to see a strapping ex-jock be openly self-deprecating. And while he unabashedly admires his co-headliners, he's still up for ribbing them, especially the burly, hairy London, who refers to himself as "the fourth guy from the left on the evolutionary chart."
"A lot of people think he wears overalls all the time," says Gulman of London's stage getup. "But he doesn't. In the live shows, he wears a barrel with straps. So I think that should be interesting for everybody."