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Freewheeling Tingle mixes wit, wisdom

SOMERVILLE -- The American dream, according to Jimmy Tingle, is about free enterprise, freedom of the press, ''and in the case of this theater, free parking."

It's also about evolution, gay marriage, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Red Sox, and yoga, among other things, according to the comic's new one-man show, ''Jimmy Tingle's American Dream," playing at his Off Broadway theater in Davis Square.

Like most political comedians, Tingle is a liberal, but he has something that many of them don't: compassion. He talks about peace and social justice, about loving yourself and your neighbor; he tells sweet, quiet stories about introducing his son to baseball. Then he takes a hard, swift swipe at the Yankees and he's rolling with the punch lines again.

Dressed in loose black pants and an untucked short-sleeve shirt, Tingle walked onstage playing ''The Star-Spangled Banner" on the harmonica, then launched into bits about Columbus and the Vikings and other early American history. The pilgrims ended up here, he says, because when they were talking about where they could go to escape religious persecution, one of them said, ''How 'bout the Cape?" So they went, and even though it was the 1600s, they still couldn't find a place on the water.

Tingle is a Cambridge boy, and his local humor hits all the right notes. Massachusetts, he said, is an Indian word for ''highly stressed people" -- he pause for a beat -- ''traveling on poorly marked roads."

He veered all over the place in the course of the show, getting serious, slamming President Bush, throwing in a Civil War joke (''the original red state/blue state thing"), picking up a metaphorical cafeteria tray to pick and choose what he wanted from Catholic teachings, and slamming Bush yet again.

He ended the first half of the show with a poem about the Pentagon's lack of statistics on Iraqis killed in the current war. Standing at the lectern with the lights dimmed, a pair of reading glasses perched on his nose, he read a list of the many things we do count in the United States: calories, divorces, minutes talked on a cellphone, the rise and fall of the stock market, the number of shopping days left until Christmas. . . . He didn't even have to say the point: all this obsessive number crunching, all inconsequential compared with war and death.

Tingle has a simple, lyrical ability to put things in perspective, to make a heavy point with the lightest of touches. He described Bush, after Hurricane Katrina had destroyed Trent Lott's house and those of countless others, talking about how he was looking forward to sitting on the porch of Lott's new house.

''And the poor were comforted," Tingle said.

Yes, he can be corny, his material can be dry and disjointed, but Tingle's whip-smart wit and self-deprecating nature are an appealing combination. At a Q&A near the end of the show, someone asked if he was working on any new TV specials, and his reply was vintage Tingle.

''I don't want to blow my own horn," he said, ''but Somerville cable is interested."

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