Out of the projects and the ’60s, comics are here | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Out of the projects and the ’60s, comics are here

Howie Nave, Special to Lake Tahoe Action

Howie Nave and Kivi Rogers

When you’re the second-youngest of seven children growing up in the Pueblo Del Rio housing projects of Los Angeles, you either cope through violence or comedy.

Kivi Rogers chose the latter, thank goodness. Kivi tells me there was never a dull moment, but comedy was always part of his life and got him through his adolescence without dropping out of school. Kivi became the requisite class clown and neighborhood prankster.

Maybe he thought he would outgrow it, and he got a degree in electronics and a job with a reputable Orange County firm. But that soon changed when some of his co-workers (tired of being the butt of his jokes) coaxed him into taking the stage. He did, winning his first comedy competition, after which he turned off his disk drive and said goodbye to the 9-to-5.

Kivi hit the road, and along the way, he showcased for HBO at the Aspen Comedy Festival and landed a development deal with Castle Rock Entertainment to star in his own sitcom.

Kivi has appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, been nominated for comedian of the year at the National Association of Campus Activities, made guest appearances on “The West Wing,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “VIP,” “Diagnosis: Murder” and “Dharma and Greg,” just to name a few. He has appeared on the big screen with Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow in “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.” He was also in “The Amati Girls,” which starred Academy Award-winners Mercedes Ruehl and “Dancing With the Stars” diva Cloris Leachman.

Along with Kivi we have a special guest, Ronnie Schell. You’ll be asking yourself, “Where have I seen this guy before?” Most people know him as Duke from the classic ’60s sitcom “Gomer Pyle, USMC.”

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It’s inspiring to see him still doing comedy. He’s also great to hang out with, just to hear those old showbiz stories. I guess it’s safe to say that Ronnie is a living legend, having performed with some comedy trailblazers, including Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Rodney Dangerfield, to name just a few.

Ronnie actually started out in San Francisco back when Mort Sahl and the Smothers Brothers appeared on the scene, playing the legendary Purple Onion and Boarding House long before there was an Improv. In fact, Ronnie was the first comedic “voice” for the new Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

That was all last-century stuff, though. Ronnie won the first ever lifetime achievement award at San Francisco’s annual Comedy Day celebration. I was out there to congratulate him, and he just said, “Well, they give you things when they think you’ll be leaving this world soon.” I doubt that, as Ronnie continues to perform clubs, theaters and is a frequent guest at the Friars Club Roast in Southern California.

He also appeared CBS’s “The Jim Nabors Variety Hour” and with Goldie Hawn on “Good Morning, World” for two seasons. I remember him playing Marlo Thomas’ agent, Harvey Peck, on ABC’s “That Girl.”

Ronnie has appeared in numerous motion pictures as well, including “The Cat From Outer Space,” “The Revenge of the Red Baron” and Carl Reiner’s “Fatal Instinct” starring Mickey Rooney and Laraine Newman.

In 1999, Ronnie co-starred in two independent films, “View From The Swing” with Tim Conway and Jennifer Grant, and the comedy “Pride And Peril.”

Ronnie Schell is serving his ninth term as honorary mayor of Encino and continues to do comedy shows with “Yarmy’s Army.”