By MICHAEL SMITH World Entertainment Writer, 4/11/2003
'Bizarro' creator takes his life with a twist and his weddings with Elvis
Dan Piraro has turned being the class clown in high school into an art form -- literally.
It wasn't enough for the Tulsa native to paint fine art as a young man or become a success as a commercial artist. The Booker T. Washington graduate (class of 1976) would go on to pen "Bizarro," the decidedly off-center and often wickedly hysterical comic strip that appears in more than 200 daily newspapers.
Piraro wasn't satisfied to merely travel the lecture circuit like many fellow cartoonists, talking about their careers. No, he decided to liven up the party by adding, in his own words, "songs, anecdotes, poems, puppets, clairvoyance, random thoughts and dangling participles."
The result of that process is, as he says, "Coming to your town like a flaming ball of lunchmeat from outer space ... The Bizarro Bologna Show!"
Actually, Tulsans served as guinea pigs for this experiment in November 2001, when Piraro staged what might be termed as an off-off-Broadway run for two nights at the Westby Theater.
The show made it to New York last summer at the International Fringe Festival, where invitations were issued to 300-plus artists, ranging from theater troupes to those producing one-person performance art. Piraro won the Best Solo Show award in the competition.
That's quite an achievement for a man who just months before had brought his show to Tulsa and was apprehensive about presenting it to his family and friends.
"I did a preview in Dallas right before that, which went pretty badly. I didn't fess up to that immediately, but I've had enough successes behind me now that I will," Piraro said by telephone from his New York home.
"I was scared to death going to Tulsa. So much of the material didn't work. I'd overwritten it; I kind of had a wrong attitude about it, trying to include too many characters and not enough of myself.
"Dallas went so poorly that I rewrote the script, and in three days I was able to turn it all around. I had a couple of great shows in Tulsa, with lots of laughs and many people saying some very kind things."
Piraro has changed up this edition of his show as well by adding an opening act. Chris Glenn -- formerly Chris Edmonds, Tulsa Washington class of 1977 and a friend of Piraro -- is a New York musician and nightclub regular who opens the show with a 45-minute set of original music.
Piraro's life revolves around New York after moving there from Dallas last year. Also, he got married -- but of course it's not as simple or as mundane as that sounds.
Remember, this is a man who on a daily basis limits his cartoon humor to a single panel, but whose mind knows no comic boundaries.
Every year, Piraro attends the National Cartoonists Society convention -- where he's won Best Cartoon Panel three years running -- and "all of us in the industry kind of hang out together and have some fun."
He'd met Ashley Smith years before at the New York convention, but he didn't know her. He knew she was cute. He knew her father was Ralph Smith (who draws the comic "Through Thick and Thin") and her stepfather was Chris Browne (who took over "Hagar the Horrible" from his father, Dik Browne).
"She thought I was just kind of cute and charming from these acceptance speeches I was giving each year, and she started e-mailing me," Piraro said.
"Then toward the end of 2001, we started calling each other on the phone, and eventually we admitted we were sort of getting crushes on each other. So she invited me to New York to visit and see if our crush would work out in person. Well, it was immediate fireworks."
Piraro, 44, was swept away. The pair started dating in February and was married two months later. Coming up on their first anniversary, he recalled the wedding that took everyone by surprise.
Ashley's family hadn't met any of her boyfriends since she was in school. They were surprised when she invited Piraro to join the family's planned two-week vacation through Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and more of the western United States.
"One time, late at night, Ashley and I had talked and we'd decided that if we ever did get married, we would never have a traditional church wedding. We would just elope, run to Las Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator in some tacky chapel," said Piraro, laughing. "Well, I didn't say a word to anyone -- including Ashley -- and I just called around and I reserved a chapel and set the whole thing up. I just told everyone that I had a surprise when we got there.
"Mind you, this was one day after I met her family. I met them all in Los Angeles on Sunday, we drove to Las Vegas on Monday and Monday night was when I had this wedding planned," he said, laughing hard now. "So this was scary as hell for everybody."
When a limousine pulled up that Monday afternoon, Ashley's family got in thinking that they were going to see the antics of Las Vegas regulars Penn & Teller -- friends of Piraro -- and then would meet the comic-illusionists after the show.
"So we got into the limo, and I proposed to Ashley, and she said, 'yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,' and went ballistic, and the rest of the family -- their mouths dropped to the floor," Piraro said, chuckling. "Their eyes glazed over and they just became zombies. Absolute zombies. Except for her stepfather. He's the only one to react, and he just kept saying, 'bad idea, bad idea, bad idea ...' over and over like a parrot.
"So we said, 'Well, thanks for the support, we're going to get married, so you can come along with us to city hall right now to get a license or you can go back to the hotel.' They stayed with us, and we got the license, went to the chapel, got married by Elvis and went to the Penn and Teller show after the wedding.
"Then we spent our honeymoon in a van with the family driving around the desert."
"The wedding itself is a funny story," Piraro said. "But Ashley and I have been married now almost a year, and we think we're even closer now than we were then."
The Bizarro Bologna Show
starring Dan Piraro, with musician Chris Glenn as opening act
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Tickets: $15, may be reserved by calling (800) 965-4827 or online at www.ticketweb.com