‘The Wonder Bread Years’ Jan. 24 and 25

'Seinfeld' writer Pat Hazell comes to Edison

Pat Hazell brings “The Wonder Bread Years” to Edison Theatre Jan. 24 and 25.Download hires image.

The food was terrible.

Kool-Aid, Manwich, Jiffy Pop, Twinkies, Spam (back when the word referred to something edible. If it ever referred to something edible …) and, yes, even poor old Wonder Bread, that pop-culture punching bag, that universal symbol of Baby Boom America at its most puffed and processed.

But Pat Hazell, growing up in suburban Omaha, Neb., loved it all.

In “The Wonder Bread Years,” Hazell — one of the original writers for “Seinfeld” — turns a fond yet pitiless eye to the brick-a-brack of American childhood: to the toys and commercials; the family vacations and weird holiday customs; the insanely dangerous games (Lawn Darts, anyone?) long since consigned to the dustbin (and lawsuits) of history.

On Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24 and 25, Hazell will bring his acclaimed one-man-show, which positively skips across the line between theater and stand-up comedy, to Washington University in St. Louis as part of the Edison Ovations Series.

Through it all

For Hazell, “The Wonder Bread Years” is both a wistful reminiscence and a culmination of more than 25 years in showbiz.

Recommended Reading:

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson

At age 17, Hazell won a stand-up contest to open for Rodney Dangerfield. Inspired by fellow Nebraskan Johnny Carson, he soon decamped for Los Angeles, where he befriended people like Ellen DeGeneres, Dennis Miller and — especially — Jerry Seinfeld. The latter became a mentor and recruited Hazell to help write the first season of “Seinfeld.” For years, Hazell served as warm-up comedian for the Seinfeld studio audience.

Hazell’s other credits include writing for “Lois and Clark,” the play “Bunk Bed Brothers” and numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show.” Showtime once named him “One of the Five Funniest People in America.” Through it all, Hazell continued to refine his sensibility, specializing in warm-but-unsentimental recollections that capture childhood in all its absurdity and potential.

How much we liked them

“As soon as we all had decent bikes — and we were totally into Evel Knievel — it was just a matter of time before we built ourselves a plywood ramp and started to jump our friends,” Hazell quips from stage.

A comically surreal family photo is projected to an overhead screen. Four young men lay prostrate on the ground. A fifth floats overhead, pedaling optimistically.

“We lined them up in decreasing order of how much we liked them.”

Nothing is safe, in Hazell’s telling, and nothing is spared. The joy and promise of youth are mirrored by its hilarious grotesqueries and occasional humiliations: the awkward vacation photos, the ill-conceived Halloween costumes, the Christmas and birthday gifts both good (bicycle!) and bad (rain slickers?).

“I was expecting an evening of nostalgia, but I didn’t get it,” said Anita Gates in The New York Times. “Mr. Hazell focuses on how idiotic things were in the decades of his growing up, not on how much simpler things seemed then…

“After all, he wrote for ‘Seinfeld,’ not ‘The Brady Bunch.’”

Tickets and sponsors

Performances of “The Wonder Bread Years” will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24 and 25. Tickets are $36, or $32 seniors, $28 for Washington University faculty and staff and $20 for students and children.

Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office, located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.; and online, at edison.wustl.edu. For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or email edison@wustl.edu.

Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors.