But the lack of attention doesn’t faze him.
“I worked with Rodney Dangerfield for two years … and he hit very late in life,” says the California native. “Everyone has their own path and their own journey — I don’t think it’s too late.”
Zany, who is scheduled to perform at Heroes in Anniston tonight with fellow comedian Donnie Baker, got his professional start at the age of 15 when he appeared on the amateur comedy program The Gong Show.
“I had never performed before … I had practiced my act in front of the bathroom mirror,” he remembers of his comedy introduction, in which he was actually booed and pulled off the stage in a net. “It was a very, very bad set.”
Zany continued to do shows and talent competitions through high school, and later went on to land his first regular gig at The Comedy Store in 1979, where he became a Monday night regular. Following another career path not aligned with show business never really stuck with Zany, who attended college to be a broadcaster and whose father was a housepainter.
“He taught me a trade, but it wasn’t a trade that I really wanted to pursue,” he said. “I remember the first time I ever performed, and I was in clean clothes, and I went ‘Oh, I’m done with work and I’m not covered in paint? This is kind of nice.’”
A modern day jack-of-all-trades, Zany’s career has also spilled over to radio and movies, where he presents the weekly segment “The Zany Report” on nationally syndicated radio program “The Bob & Tom Show,” which can be heard locally weekday mornings on 105.9 FM. In the works is a recently completed indie movie 23 Minutes to Sunrise that paired Zany with Eric Roberts and his fellow high school classmate, singer and actress Nia Peeples.
“Her and I play husband and wife. It’s kind of surreal that we’re doing this movie together and we’re playing husband and wife 30 years later,” said Zany, who graduated a year ahead of Peeples in 1979. Zany has also taken the time to do some retrospective work on his career, and in 2010 completed his documentary Close, But No Cigar: Bob Zany.
“We’re trying to explore why Bob Zany isn’t a household name, like Drew Carey, even though he’s worked with all these people,” Zany said of his showbiz story.
As far as names go, Zany, who was born Robert Tetrault in 1951, chose to use the nickname he was given in high school as his stage name.
“I actually used to go by Bob Zany Tetrault, but when I’d go to all the clubs, the comedians couldn’t pronounce my last name, so they’d just say ‘Here’s Bob Zany,’ and I finally just gave in to it.”
When it comes to his live set, Zany prefers to let the audience steer the boat.
“I always say I have a beginning and an end, and in the middle I let the audience take me wherever they take me,” he said. “Some people have compared my style to Don Rickles, but Don Rickles kind of already knows what he’s going to say to somebody in the audience. I let them talk and then I try to build off that and see if I can make it funny.”
Zany will open for Donnie Baker at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. March 2. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at Rock1059.net. Follow him on Twitter @bobzany.