Enough with the letter i or lack thereof in actor Jim J. Bullock's name. "I should have just left it Becky!" he jokes on the phone from his California home. The former costar of the hit ABC sitcom Too Close for Comfort once went by the cryptic handle "JM J. Bullock." (Another Screen Actors Guild member already shared Bullock's given name, and rules preclude two identically named performers.) But as he notes, in 1990 he "had a vowel movement" and returned the missing i to its rightful place, ending the confusion once and for all. "As long as they were calling, I didn't care what they called me," Bullock says about show-biz powers-that-be.
And with perhaps less-visible roles, they continued to call. After the amiable Comfort ended in 1985, he did time in the center square on the game show The New Hollywood Squares. Then he scored a part on the NBC comedy ALF during its final year. Sharing screen time with the chatty alien puppet was nothing short of "a nightmare," Bullock recalls. "People weren't having fun." In the mid-Nineties he co-hosted a talk show with Tammy Faye Bakker ("a dear, sweet, wonderful woman") for about five minutes. Theater work came calling too, offering stints in the musical comedy revue When Pigs Fly, which garnered him an L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award in 2000, and last year's off-Broadway production End of the World Party.
These days Bullock is a regular panelist on the retro game show I've Got a Secret, airing on the Oxygen cable network, and he stars with former Laugh-In cast member Jo Anne Worley in the Broadway-bound comedy Dear Sheldon, written by Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein. He plays a long-suffering Jewish man enduring a love-hate relationship with -- who else? -- his domineering mother. Their toxically lighthearted link is explored through their correspondence. Seemingly a perfect role for a west Texas-born Southern Baptist, whose first acting gig was in a high school version of Bye Bye Birdie (he played Mr. McAfee, the character originated by Paul Lynde) and whose relatives never dreamed they'd have an actor in their midst. "Not anyone in my family was like me," Bullock explains earnestly. "I was like a freak -- in more ways than one."
The Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8th St, Fort Lauderdale
Runs through Sunday, March 10; Showtimes vary. Tickets range from $37.50 to $45.50. Call 954-763-2444.
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Bullock differs from many of his acting brethren in that he prefers shorter jaunts on television to the long-term commitments of stage work. As an example he cites an actress who spent 22 years in the cast of Cats. "I'm going huh, whaa?" he says, amazed. "They've bought homes and paid for them and they've raised families, and that's great. But uh-uh." Don't get him wrong, however. He does enjoy making people laugh in Dear Sheldon: "I bring a sort of Texas Jewish thing to it, with a Southern Baptist layer." The best thing about the role for him, though? Stumped, he pauses for a second and ponders. "The nudity!" he quips slyly. "The nudity at the end of the first act!"