In his one-man show “The Wonder Bread Years,” comedian Pat Hazell reflects on the finer things in life: tossing lawn darts, playing with plastic green army men and digging through cereal boxes for prizes.
“I tried to pick iconic things that might have been in (the audience’s) photo albums,” explained Hazell, whose experiences growing up in Omaha, Neb., inspired the nostalgic show.
Hazell will bring his gentle brand of humor to the Central Coast on Feb. 9 as part of “Cocktails with Larry Miller and Friends,” a comedy showcase benefitting the Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
Also performing are Jake Johannsen, a regular on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and other late night shows, and Larry Miller, who audiences will recognize from his roles in “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries” movies.
“Jake’s got a great energy and a great spirit,” Hazell said, while Miller is “a consummate storyteller.” “Anybody who’s ever worked with him knows the guy can … really spin a yarn.”
Hazell got an early start in show business as a stage magician with “an arsenal of tricks.”
“By the time I was in high school, I was making my living doing card tricks on street corners … being snuck into the backs of bars to perform,” said Hazell, who eventually graduated to corporate and university gigs, opening for the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Frankie Valli and Helen Reddy.
After moving to Los Angeles, Hazell caught the attention of Jerry Seinfeld and soon joined him on the road as his opening act.
He also served as a writer, along with Seinfeld, Larry David and Matt Goldman, on the first season of Seinfeld’s hit television show, originally known as “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” Hazell’s other TV writing credits include “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”
Hazell later teamed up with Goldman to create the play “Bunk Bed Brothers,” a comedy about two grown brothers who spend an evening in the 1970s-era bedroom they shared as children.
Network executives expressed interested in turning the play into a NBC sitcom, but 1996’s “American Pie” barely made it past the pilot stage. (Five more episodes were filmed but never aired.)
The process taught Hazell an important truth about writing.
“Story is really king and everything else is window dressing,” he said. “If I just put in as many jokes per square inch as possible, it’s over.”
Hazell’s follow-up to “Bunk Bed Brothers” was “The Wonder Bread Years,” which he developed in 2001.
“The a-ha moment for me was (the realization that), ‘This isn’t about me at all. This is about the audience,’ ” he recalled, noting that “everybody has a story” about their childhood.
Once Hazell opens up about sorting Halloween candy and staging bouts with Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots, he said, “people start thinking about their own toys and games and jingles and recipes.”
At one point in “The Wonder Bread Years,” Hazell asks audience members about their favorite show-and-tell stories.
One woman, he recalled, “just burst out” with a story about “a three-legged dog named Mindy that remembered its tricks from when it was a four-legged dog.”
As the chief creative officer of Sweetwood Productions in Austin, Texas, Hazell has overseen the creation of a handful of family-friendly shows, including “The Good Humor Men” and “A Kodachrome Christmas.”
Most recently, Hazell teamed up with Miller to create “Cocktails with Larry Miller,” which finds the prolific performer telling jokes, sharing stories and sitting down at the piano for a few songs.
The one-man show draws elements from Miller’s standup act and his 2007 book “Spoiled Rotten America: Outrages of Everyday Life.” The actor, whose numerous television credits include “Boston Legal,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Law & Order,” is also known for his appearances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary movies, including “Best in Show” and “Waiting For Guffman.”
“Larry is a tremendous story teller and a great, charming guy all around,” said Hazell, the show’s director and producer. “This really is the best of Larry Miller.”
Central Coast audiences will see a shortened version of “Cocktails” because Miller is still recovering from a serious brain injury he sustained in April. (Miller had just wrapped a podcast with comedian Adam Carolla when he lost his footing, fell, and hit the back of his head on a sidewalk; afterward, he went into a coma and spent a month on life support at UCLA Medical Center.)
“It’s extraordinary the recovery he’s made, but it takes a lot of stamina to do a two-hour show,” said Hazell, noting that the Feb. 9 show is “right at the beginning” of Miller’s return to touring.
According to Hazell, “Cocktails with Larry Miller and Friends” will showcase three comedy professionals at the height of their craft.
“Each of these people knows how to get up, go back and triple a home run,” he said.
IF YOU GO
Cocktails with Larry Miller and Friends
8 p.m. Feb. 9
Cohan Center, Cal Poly
$30 to $75
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org