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Dinner at The Peppermill with Dat Phan

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Dat Phan at the Improv in Harrah’s on April 29, 2009.
Photo: Erik Kabik/Retna/www.erikkabikphoto.com

About three quarters of the way into a phone interview with Last Comic Standing winner Dat Phan, he asked out of nowhere, “Do you like The Peppermill?”

I’ve enjoyed the occasional late night chicken tender on the lounge side, but I had never ventured into the restaurant part of the neon and fake tree-covered venue. The San Diego comic told me that The Peppermill was on his must visit list, which is how, after Phan’s show at Harrah’s last Friday night, my boyfriend, his brother and I ended up meeting Phan and his girlfriend at the Las Vegas late night institution.

Everyone should order dinner like Dat Phan. Instead of perusing the menu, Phan took a lap around The Peppermill. He checked out the food at each customer’s table, a sort of live action menu, before sitting down to consider his own order.

While we waited for our food to arrive, Phan filled us in on the business side of his comedic exploits. Now that he’s somewhat of a household name, courtesy of the millions of viewers who watched and voted for him on Last Comic Standing, Phan explained that he can’t look like a bum on stage.

He wanted some fashion help. Phan asked us if we knew of any local boutiques where he could purchase more “one-of-a-kind” Affliction shirts and the like. While I often refer to these garments as “shiny shirts” or “douchebag T’s,” I realized he was serious. Clearly, the ubiquitous jewel-encrusted T-shirts haven’t staged a coup of San Diego yet, if Phan thinks there is any hope of finding a “one-of-a-kind” version.

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Rhinestone embellishments weren’t his only style concern. As we sat at The Peppermill, Phan also outlined his plan to design and market a new version of a murse (the infamous man purse). Between bites of sliders, he tried to verbally illustrate the accessory – a utility belt, worn like an ammo belt with pockets. It would eliminate the need for bulky cargo pockets and keep the hands free. He’s currently working with his designer on the prototype.

Though Phan and his Louisiana-bred girlfriend are a relatively new couple, the duo functions like a well-timed punch line. Before each show, Phan explained, they both scan the crowd during the openers and gauge audience demographics to tweak his routine accordingly. For the earlier shows with older audiences, he might cut the bad language. If a crowd seems ready to roll, he’ll let it rip.

Each night when he’s back in his hotel room after a show, he evaluates his performance and adjusts his routine as needed. Treating each routine like an experiment that could be tweaked endlessly, helped him win Last Comic, too. Phan recounted how he approached his opponents with an Art of War perspective, seeing which ones he could pit against each other to eliminate certain pairs and which ones he could intimidate himself so it was, “bam, bam, bam down the line” until he was literally the Last Comic Standing.

Phan has his sights set on new entertainment territory. He’ll act in the upcoming When In Rome (in theaters in 2010), and he’s busy with guitar lessons, trying to emulate his favorite guitar player, John Mayer. Though not the brooding singer/songwriter type, Phan hopes he can be a Vietnamese version of Flight of the Conchords, combining his passion for music with his established comedic skills. With influences like Mayer, keep checking itunes for Phan’s upcoming releases like “Your Joke Book is a Wonderland.”

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