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Comic doesn't let "Dick' get him down

The Watergate comedy Dick made a more embarrassing departure from America's consciousness than Richard Nixon did from the White House in 1974. In its opening weekend, Dick didn't even crack the Top 10 with its paltry $2.2-million take at the nation's box offices.

Jim Breuer _ former Palm Harbor resident, former Saturday Night Live player and perpetually nice guy _ kept smiling through the wreckage.

New parenthood can do that to anyone.

Breuer's jittery impersonation of White House counsel John Dean in Dick was just another gig for the 32-year-old comedian. Nobody bought tickets to see the birth of 3-month-old Gabrielle Breuer, either. But her delivery room performance is the highlight of Breuer's year, easing the sting of a career in transition.

"Dee and I had been married for a while and we were ready for a new plateau," Breuer recently said. "It was a child we both wanted and we're doing it right. I'll probably be filming a movie in Toronto starting in October, so I can get an apartment there and take them on location.

"For the first five years, the kid's not in school, so I'm going to be around her as much as possible, which is very, very important to me."

Breuer isn't confining himself to a rocking chair in a nursery, though. He's bouncing back from being dismissed from the Saturday Night Live cast, a sitcom pilot stuck in TV limbo and a tepid response to his stoned feature film debut in Half Baked. Whatever happens next in Breuer's career is going to be his idea.

"This is a great time to be where I'm at," he said. "I'm making a film, and I get to shop around and put it in (a studio) that I want. I found a great producer in Tom Shadyac, who did Liar, Liar; Patch Adams; Ace Ventura, Pet Detective; and The Nutty Professor. That's a great track record. He really knows how to exploit a comic in the best way.

"This thing will probably be THE Jim Breuer movie. My Ace Ventura, so to speak."

The still-untitled project could be ready for next summer's movie season. Breuer described it as a comedy of mistaken identity, with him cast as a man accused of stalking the daughter of a U.S. president. When he's cleared of the charge, the daughter comes to apologize and romance blossoms. "We're still writing and should be done in about six weeks," Breuer said.

A lot of people who remember Breuer from Tampa Bay comedy clubs are pulling for him to succeed. Breuer was around here when stand-up comedy was serious business, volunteering to emcee shows at Coconuts and the late, lamented Ron Bennington's Comedy Scene, where he began doing stand-up in 1989. Anyone who could grasp a microphone in those days tried to make audiences laugh. Breuer accomplished it more than just about anyone else.

Eight years ago, stand-up comedy was a hobby of mine. One of the most enjoyable gigs I ever had was opening for Breuer at the State Theater in St. Petersburg. That night, like so many others, Breuer tickled the audience, then loaded his van with other comics to race to another club and another outside shot at stage time. Other comedians would have left rivals stranded to get a jump on them. Not Breuer.

"I was always the all-for-one-and-one-for-all guy," he said. "I was the guy with the van who told everybody to pile in because we're all going to make it to the top."

Breuer was the only comic who did. He made a dizzying rise through the snickers-bar circuit to join the cast of Saturday Night Live for three seasons. Fans still recognize Breuer for his uncanny portrayal of tough-guy actor Joe Pesci, and they bleat at him on the street in honor of his odd Goat Boy character. "I still sell out little theaters because I said "Baaaaaa,' " Breuer said, a bit sheepishly.

Before the 1998-99 season began, Breuer was informed by the show's producers that Goat Boy and his other characters were being put out to pasture.

"I miss doing the characters, but I don't miss Saturday Night Live," he said. "The head writers didn't want me there; they were never fans of mine. They did everything in their power to let me go, and that's an unhealthy environment to be around. You're constantly fighting egos. I don't want to be around that. It was getting so frustrating that I was glad they let me go."

Breuer returned to the stand-up comedy stage, including a wild performance at the University of South Florida's homecoming party last year. He recently sold out five shows at Manhattan's famed Caroline's comedy club, and a winter tour to prepare for an HBO special is in the works. No venues have been booked at this early date, but Breuer has one in mind.

"One of my dreams is to play Ruth Eckerd Hall, because that's home for me," he said.