Randy Riggle dislikes the phrase "thank-you." In his business, it ranks right
up there with a bunch of mean-spirited hecklers.
"Thank-you are the worst words you can hear," said Riggle, a stand-up comedian from Lone Pine.
It's almost as bad as his first on-stage performance at the Comedy Club in Pittsburgh. It was Groundhog Day 1982, and he was given five minutes on the "Amateur Night" stage.
"I had lame material and it met with a lame response," Riggle said. "I live in Lone Pine. We have no cable. I had no concept what a comedy club was about."
So he went home, dried his eyes and rewrote his routine.
Two weeks later, he won the amateur competition and the right to host a night - for a fee, no less - at the club.
"It was a nice way to break into the business," the 37-year-old Riggle said.
Riggle isn't singing the blues anymore. He will open for country music sensation Ray Price Saturday at Jamboree USA in Wheeling, W.Va.
His act includes jokes about growing up, high school, parents, dating and relationships. He does tongue-twisters, sings the alphabet backwards and plays the guitar. He does a lot of impersonations, too. His best, he says, is Johnny Mathis. He also does a fine impression of Bob Dylan, Ronald Reagan and Elmer Fudd.
But what sets Riggle apart from many comedians is he's clean, following the lead of his comedic inspiration, Red Skelton. Riggle caught Skelton's live act in November 1981 at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. His two-hour comedy routine garnered five standing ovations.
"He was one of the last people to do pantomime," Riggle said. "He was so clean. That's the only reason I followed his example. It's a way of life for me. I'm a Christian.
"I'm clean. I can go to a church and take the same act to a college."
In 1993, Riggle finally met his hero, and he'll never forget Skelton's words of wisdom.
"He said, 'If you're funny, you can stand behind a brick wall and make people laugh,'" Riggle said. "It was really neat sharing stuff. I got a shot at making Red Skelton laugh."
When Skelton died on Sept. 17, 1997, Riggle was at Skelton's gallery in the Riviera Hotel Casino buying a piece of Skelton's art.
Despite all the joking and ribbing he did with his friends, Riggle never thought comedy would become his profession. But after several odd jobs, Riggle knew he had to give comedy a shot.
"In 1988, I said, 'If I don't try it now,'" he said. "A couple years were very slim picking up acts."
His luck eventually changed, as his refreshingly innocent humor and quick wit began to captivate audiences. Since 1992, business has been "very, very good."
At first, he focused on the corporate and college scenes. He's played Penn State, Ohio State and the Universities of California and Hawaii. He's now performing at clubs and hotels in Las Vegas, and he did an impromptu performance for the cast of the now-defunct "Night Court."
He has written for Joan Rivers and Jay Leno, whom he met in 1988 when Leno was performing in Pittsburgh.
"I find myself in a position where I'm seeing myself as different people," Riggle said. "I have Jay's mannerisms and monologue and (David) Lettermen's mannerisms and monologue."
Riggle is renovating his act, though, making his shtick tighter and more energetic.
"I'm not just one-dimensional. Everybody has a gimmick. I never found a gimmick. I try to do a lot of things," said Riggle, who is a 1979 graduate of Trinity High School.
Many times, an idea will just pop into his head, whether it's triggered by something he hears on the radio, or something he sees alongside the road. That's why he keeps index cards handy in his car.
"I have a whole drawer full of placemats, napkins, index cards," Riggle said.
Even so, he's hit some dry spells. But he always works through them because he knows that at some point, something will come to him.
"It's tough in this business," he said. "People feel you've got to be on all the time. You can't do it 24 hours a day.
"Sometimes I go into a place, and the crowd's real laid back. I've got to get myself going. It's the same thing writing a joke. It's tough. The thing that makes me laugh may not make a group of 50 people to laugh. I want to be the one getting the laughs."
He's had several chances to do what he calls "neat things." He's met Kevin Nealon of "Saturday Night Live" and the legendary Bob Hope. He's attended the Emmy Awards, and was awestruck at his first awards ceremony in 1990. "I met so many people," he said. "There were so many people in one place at one time."
He's got a scrapbook full of photographs of celebrities he's met, and each is accompanied by a message and autograph. There's Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Grant, Robin Williams, Dom DeLuise, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Lucille Ball, Jerry Seinfeld and George Wendt, who penned, "I'll have one for you at 'Cheers!'"
Riggle will spend January and February in California, where he will read a pilot for a sitcom and audition some agents. To this point in his career, he has served as his own agent so he could dictate his own schedule. This has allowed him to spend quality time with his family - his parents, Earl and Virginia, and his grandfather.
"I'm close to my parents," Riggle said.
Whatever his comedic future holds, one thing is almost certain: You won't be able to catch his act in Washington County.
"This is not a big comedy town, not unless you bring in a big name. That's the reason I rarely perform around here," he said.