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SHTICK SHIFTWHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD? FIND OUT AT THIS DEFENSIVE-DRIVING SCHOOL.

Old joke: After he gets pulled over for speeding, a guy tries to talk his way out of the ticket by telling the traffic cop that he's almost home. The cop doesn't buy it. "Don't you realize that most accidents occur within five miles of the home?" he asks as he issues the ticket. "No prob," shrugs the hot rodder. "I'll move."

Rim shot!
Right now, there's probably nobody who can appreciate this hoary gag better than comedy driving school mogul Ray Regan.

Five years after he began operating a chain of daffy defensive-driving classes in California, Regan has decided to expand his operations to the Phoenix area.

Whether the Valley gets Regan's joke remains to be seen. Although his laughing academy has already been certified by the state, it will be several months before he learns whether he's landed contracts with various courts throughout the Valley. Calling his school Desert Star Traffic Safety, Regan plans to traffic in those defensive-driving classes that offer minor offenders the opportunity to atone for their sins by sitting through eight hours of droning statistics and gory accident footage. Sound like hell on wheels? It doesn't have to, says Regan. He claims that students are far more receptive to a nonjudgmental comedian than the off-duty patrol officers who traditionally moonlight as teachers.

Of course, staffing a funny business like Regan's isn't exactly a barrel of laughs once you get much past the comedy-clogged arteries that run through the company's Southern California home base.

"Everybody who wants to become a comedian goes to Los Angeles," says Regan. "They're actually lining up to work for us in California. But the farther out you move from Los Angeles, the harder it becomes to find comedians who've got that kind of polish we're looking for."

Welcome to Phoenix.
"Well, we've gotten a lot of calls from people who think they're funny," says Regan, who is still looking. "Actually, though, we've been pleasantly surprised. We've been seeing better talent here than we'd expected."

Still, Regan admits he's been forced to expand his dragnet beyond comedy-club crawls and trade-paper ads he uses in El Lay: Here in the Valley, he's also scouring talent agencies and casting eyes at several radio personalities.

If and when he finally gets hold of his faculty, Regan promises a virtual joy ride.

"Where is it written that these classes have to be punishment?" asks Regan. "Humor is an educational vehicle."

(Playing it safe, Regan chose a sober name for his fledgling Arizona operation. His classes in California operate under the name Lettuce Amuse U Laff and Learn Comedy School.)

In California, his educational laugh-o-rama was initially met with some resistance. But skepticism soon fell by the wayside. "The concept works," he says. "It's that simple. Remember, the buggy whip business was very big in 1912. Times change."

Today, quip service is big business, and Regan boasts that his company employs 200 comedians in its California classes. "We were the first ones in the traffic-school industry in this country to utilize professional comedians," he says. "Why? Because we're in love with show business? Because we're in love with comedians? No. We use comedians because they're great communicators, they're quick studies, they get their points across real well and they hold the students' interest, too."

During the past few years, comedy classes like Regan's have severely overhauled the traditionally nuts-and-bolts driving school industry. In addition to Lettuce Amuse U, errant Southern California motorists can now chuckle up for safety at scads of competitors bearing ungainly monikers like Br-Ake Ya Up Funny Comedians Traffic School, D-rive U Silly Funny Comedians Traffic School, and Whee-L Make U Laff Great Comedians. Some comedy classes also sweeten the pot by offering complimentary pizza, free lottery tickets, or the lure of all-singles sessions.

As soon as Regan gets the green light here, his instructors will hit the books themselves, part of a three-week training program. In addition to boning up on the finer points of Arizona traffic law, the class clowns will also receive a crash course in what t'ain't funny.

Andrew Dice Clay need not apply. Swearing and dirty jokes are verboten. Ditto digs at the cops or courts. Drunk-driving gags? Forget it. And pity the poor chump who makes the mistake of joking about the driving habits of women and the elderly.

So what's left to lampoon?
That's a good question--and until his Valley schools get under way, one that's best answered by viewing one of Regan's promotional tapes. In one bit about keeping one's eyes on the road, a manic young instructor flops around while wearing a pair of bloodshot gag goggles with spring-loaded "eyes." In another clip, a comedienne turns in a curious impression of a turn-signal indicator. Later on, an in-yer-face comedienne stresses the need to buckle an infant into his car seat facing backward: In the event of a rear-ender, the baby will make a swell witness.

As one attendee at a California comedy clinic recalls, it sure beats listening to some highway patrol fossil flap his gums for eight hours.

But is it funny? "Yeah, I guess it was entertaining," he says, before sheepishly confessing he wasn't really paying all that much attention: It seems he was too busy playing hangman with fellow traffic truant Jayne Meadows.

Now that's funny.

"We've gotten a lot of calls from people who think they're funny."

"Humor is an educational vehicle.

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Dewey Webb