Thursday, October 20, 2005

This guy's got quite a shtick ! Oink! Oink!

John Baer | This guy's got quite a shtick ! Oink! Oink!

DON'T KNOW about you, but I can't wait for state House Speaker John Perzel's next show.

I mean the guy's killin'.

He's doing this statewide standup routine on the Legislature's pay grab, sometimes with White House-inspired backdrops. And funny?

Last week in Pittsburgh he stood for photos in front of a bunch of bright pink pigs - the very symbol of the anti-pay-raise movement - in an elementary- school classroom.

It was beautiful. Just like when they put Bush in front of backdrops of repeated slogans such as "enduring freedom" or "economic recovery."

It's called message management. And it's genius, I tell you.

Oh, Perzel aides say it's coincidental, that the Pittsburgh pigs represented piggy banks, part of a school project on the virtues of saving money (which, given their guest, is funny in itself), but, come on, I know political planning when I see it.

Masterful. Nobody's doing more than Perzel to keep the pay grab alive, reminding people how lawmakers in July voted themselves without debate 16 percent to 54 percent pay hikes (his own salary going up $37,000 to $146,000) - and doing so with such humor!

He sat, for example, on a bale of hay to read to some fourth-graders, symbolism perhaps lost on many.

But his image-makers, of course, wanted to reprise his hysterical farm skit last month, when he said the pay grab's justified because immigrant cow-milkers make $55,000 a year or more.


He's got a million of 'em.

Then, when a fourth-grade girl asked if he came to her school in a limo, he said he came in "a car."

I'll bet he also did an aside in his Krusty the Klown voice: "A big black Lincoln Towne car with limo plates and a driver, whoa-a-ha-ha!"

This episode is especially rib-tickling since it leads to an event-exiting question from a reporter, the kind every politician loves to hear, "Why did you lie to that little girl?"

Oh, stop, please stop!

All this started back in early September, when Perzel cleverly used an announcement in Harrisburg of his "Golden Apple" awards for innovative schools to drop a show-stopping one-liner on the pay raise: "There's nothing to talk about."

And the French call Jerry Lewis a genius.

Thing is? Like many maestros of comedy, Perzel offstage ain't that funny.

For example: I run into him recently in Center City and there's nary a chuckle. I come out of the Black Cat Cigar Store on Sansom and see him window-shopping at the Alden shoe store.

(Perhaps some Alden Blucher Oxford wingtips in black, $480 the pair? Hey, he's a powerful guy who just got a $37G raise! Powerful guys need nice wingtips.)

"Well, well, well," I say. He doesn't seem pleased to see me.

"What's going to happen with the [pay raise] repeal bill?" I ask.

"I don't know," he says, "Do they have 102 votes? If they have 102 votes, it'll pass."

"Well, does it ever get to a vote?" I ask.

"You tell me," he says, and quickly loses interest in the conversation, and in shoe shopping.

See? Not that funny one-on-one. Must be one of those performers who feed off an audience.

So I call his press aide, Beth Williams, and ask what's next? Any more gigs planned? "Not that I know of," she says.

But I know she's toying with me. I mean the guy's a natural. And the show must go on.

I'm thinking maybe something for Halloween. Maybe in costume. Something involving cows, pigs, limos and wingtips. Let's see, what could it be? I don't know. But I bet he comes up with a funny idea.

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