Gone Fishing: Conway's `Dorf' Is Reeling 'Em In

Finally, I cave in, although I can console myself that I have the company of Colin Powell. He apparently also is a channel surfer who couldn't flip past the Dorf commercials.

If you channel surf, and happen to stop on CNN, or the USA channel, or the Nashville Network, or even the Weather Channel, you cannot escape the commercials for "Dorf Goes Fishing."

"I went to Reagan's 85th birthday party," Tim Conway tells me. Conway is the veteran comic who created the Dorf character. He's 62, and there's an entire generation who know him more for his Dorf character than for his work on the classic Carol Burnett TV variety show.

He goes on, "I met Colin Powell. The first thing he said was, `I gotta get that tape.' "

Well, Colin, I got that tape, $19.95 plus shipping. If you're going to write about this country, better take in a little Dorf along with the political pundits on PBS. Dorf is probably better-known that some presidential candidates.

What IS that?

As I watched the video in the privacy of my home, certain people who also happen to live there said, "What IS that?"

What IS that?

Maybe you could call it the revenge of middle America. No violence, no sex, no drugs. Just Tim Conway playing a stumpy 3-foot-7 character with a bad toupee and a weird Scandinavian accent, and selling videos like crazy: 330,000 so far, pretty good in a business in which sales of 100,000 tapes is considered platinum.

The way that Conway becomes 3 foot 7 is by putting his feet through holes on the floor, and putting shoes on his knees, and rocking back and forth, and sometimes falling on his face.

You'd think that maybe a lobbying group for dwarfs might have lodged some protests by now. But Dorf is too much an innocent character to be politically incorrect.

If you ever watched Carol Burnett's show, this 45-minute video is pretty much like the skits you used to see on it. The video even comes with a laugh track.

"That's what people are used to," Conway explains. "If you took the laugh track out, some people might turn it off in three minutes. They need something else to supplement their laughter."

The skits include Dorf going fishing with his wife, who doesn't know anything about the sport but of course ends up catching all the fish. There is a spoof of a shopping channel, in which various items for the compleat fisherman are offered, items that never seem to work as advertised.

"I guess it's a gentle approach to comedy," Conway says. "I try not to target anybody. The pitfalls are all piled on the character I play."

The Dorf videotapes - Conway also did "Dorf on Golf" and a couple of others - are destined to be success stories just like Ray Stevens' "Comedy Video Classics," which sold more than 2 million copies. Some of you might remember Stevens, the guy with the hit novelty tunes like "Ahab The Arab" and "Gitarzan."

No sex, violence, drugs

Again, no violence, no sex (other than in an innocent context), no drugs. I'll bet Colin Powell thought about ordering that video, too.

"There is still an audience out there that's being cheated a bit by what's considered humor. Take `Ace Ventura,' where you end up with a lot of bowel humor," Conway says. "I don't do that."

A couple of regions in which "Dorf Goes Fishing" has sold poorly are - you guessed it - New York and San Francisco, not exactly bastions of middle America. One cable superstation also yanked the Dorf commercials during the O.J. Simpson trial, apparently because seguing from O.J. to Dorf seemed a little too much, even for TV. That's about as controversial as Dorf has gotten.

Otherwise, Dorf is such a fantastic success that Conway is having talks about a Dorf detective movie, and future videos are planned.

What IS that? Are you thinking that?

Well, figure it this way. All those Dorf fans, they're probably saying the same thing about you, too.

Erik Lacitis' column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. His phone number is 464-2237.