Deadpan Alley

Jerry Seinfeld killed stand-up comedy. He didn't mean to, but the damage was done just the same. After Seinfeld, comedians don't want to be just comedians anymore; they want a 13-episode deal and the time slot after Friends. A guest shot on The Tonight Show or Letterman used to be the highlight of a comic's career. Now, comedians see an appearance on one of those shows as a televised pitch meeting. Hey, you can hardly blame them. If two networks (ABC and NBC) were willing to give a hair farmer like Jeff Foxworthy--he of the "You might be a redneck..." shtick--his own sitcom, you can't fault comedians for thinking they might have a shot at their own shows as well.

Wendy Liebman is guilty of wanting to move past standing onstage in front of a fake brick backdrop (every comedy club has one) spewing jokes to a bunch of drunk loudmouths. After 10 years on the club circuit, Liebman--winner of the 1997 American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-Up--is just starting to come into her own. She's developing a series for Comedy Central, and she recently starred in the indie flick Good Grief. But Liebman is a stand-up comic first and foremost, and a great one at that. Her act isn't just a springboard to something else, a series of script ideas with jokes thrown in occasionally. Sometimes, it's hard to tell exactly what her act is.

What appears to be Liebman's real material is just a set up. Her jokes begin where the punchline ends, deadpan parenthetical asides that are delivered just before she starts on another topic. It's hard to catch at first, because she delivers the actual punchline when she already has the audience laughing. The normal jokes are funny ("I didn't want to go to my 30th class reunion because I've put on maybe 90 or 100 pounds since then"), but it's the ones where she continually stacks on punchlines that are hilarious ("On the airplane I sat beside a man and I knew just how much he wanted me... to shut up...because he was busy flying the plane). It might sail right by someone who hasn't seen her perform before, so be forewarned. Laugh, but pay attention. You might miss something.

Wendy Liebman performs at Addison's Improv, located at 4980 Belt Line, through Sunday, May 24. Show times are Thursday and Sunday at 8:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$15. Call (972) 404-8501.