As comedian Lord Carrett tells it, he started bagging audiences as a 3-year-old with off-color jokes in his father's bar in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"If I heard a joke, I always remembered it, even if I had no idea what I was talking about," he says. "People would fall off their stools to have this little tow-headed altar boy -- at that point I was in Catholic school -- come up and tell a filthy joke. It was like a mini Dice Clay.
"On Sundays, after I hung around with the priest, I would go into my family's bar and shoot pool with a convicted felon. Seeing both sides of the world definitely colored my perceptions. I realized that I was supposed to love my neighbor. But I also realized 'Isn't he out to get me?' "
Mr. Carrett, (pronounced cah-RETT) has spent much of the past seven years refining his appreciation of irony in one-night stands around the country.
He will appear at the Comedy Factory Outlet, 36 Light St., at 8:30 and 10:30 tonight and tomorrow night. Now with cable television appearances and regular work at regional comedy clubs -- he appeared four times at Baltimore's Slapstix last year -- Mr. Carrett says he's ready for New York and Los Angeles. His show touches most of the customary bases: childhood, life on the road, sex.
"I don't really work blue," he says. "It's the kind of stuff that might make Grandma rear back, but she wouldn't smack you."
He says he particularly likes jokes that polarize the audience.
"I do a lot of jokes that divide the sexes. Jokes like: 'My wife and I eloped and got married in the Keys. I highly recommend it. All it costs to get married in the Keys is $54.50. What a deal! $54.50, my laundry's done the rest of my life!'
"All the women go 'Boo!' and the men go 'Yeah!'
"It's kind of a dangerous way to work because it's easy for it to get out of hand. But now I know how far to push."
When he's not spraying the audience with humor, Mr. Carrett, 30, strikes you as modest, hard-working -- he performs an average of six shows a week -- and patient: He tells about years when he spent as many as 19 weeks in a row driving across the country in his Honda Civic to gigs in corner bars. Now based in Annapolis -- he moved there because of his wife's business as a makeup artist -- he flies to any job more than three hours from home.
But it's no easier to generate material.
"It used to be you said, 'I'm a comedian,' and people would say 'Wow, that's neat!' Now, they say 'Oh, I know a comedian!' With everyone rabidly looking for material, the challenge is to find something fresh in a subject which has literally been beat to death."
"Comics talk about what they know. And a comic's life is driving to the gig -- or flying to the gig -- staying in a hotel room, eating fast food, watching TV -- so commercials are a subject that's pretty much been canvassed -- all those things pop up in everyone's act, and the challenge is to find something that everyone else has missed."
Mr. Carrett says he grew up as the classic "little guy with the big mouth," admiring such comics as Bill Cosby and Steve Martin. For a while he tried the field of commercial art. As his dreams of creating album covers began to disappear into assignments to design labels for mustard jars, however, he reconsidered his comic abilities.
He began working as a bartender -- not a bad route for a comedian -- as he built and shaped material for open-mike nights at local bars. He studied the comedians he admired, read their jokes, took them apart, examined the language, style, the pacing, and fitted them back together.
In 1985, he took the plunge.
"I sold everything I owned. . . . I stuck my records in storage and went on the road."
While he drove, he would work out new material on a note pad stuck to the windshield.
"A great percentage of what makes something funny is pacing and the way you say something. If you can come up with material which is only funny because of the way you say it, that's the kind of stuff you want to have in your repertoire.
nTC "By and large I'm a joke writer: Joke-joke-joke! Boom-boom-boom."
It has also taken him a few years to develop his stage persona: He wears a tuxedo with an emerald green embroidered jacket, a rhinestone string tie and a tastefully small earring. He claims he's 5'9" without the hair, 5'11" with it.
He calls his style conversational, sometimes shocking.
"My wife says that I have a much darker opinion of myself than anyone else, that I have big doe eyes and a likable smile and that people just want to pinch my cheek. I see myself as something like friendly anarchy. I'm billed as a cross between Sid Caesar and Sid Vicious."
However he seems rather old-fashioned for a guy with a 2-inch do. He talks about the ideals of Lady Comedy and likes to portray himself as a knight defending her honor.
"There are comics who will come into a club in a new city and ask, 'Where do the hookers hang out? Where do the rednecks live?' Then they'll put that all those answers into little slots in their act. That's just button pushing," he says.
"You want to walk that fine line between doing your job and pandering."
So is it true that all humor is based on someone else's misfortune?
"Yeah," he says. "Mine especially."
When. Feb. 7 and 8, 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Where: The Comedy Factory Outlet, 36 Light St.
Tickets: $8.99 tonight, $9.99 tomorrow night.
Call: (410) LAF-FTER.