- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

''I don't think Hollywood really knows what to do with funny women," Cheri Oteri says in a confidential tone.
The diminutive brunette spitfire, who was instrumental in reviving the credibility of "Saturday Night Live" as a bastion of television foolishness, stars this summer in the naughty horror comedy "Scary Movie."
In contrast to the blaring, abnormally perky characterizations that made her a breakout star on "SNL," Miss Oteri is quite composed as she talks about the film in a posh Los Angeles hotel.
Much of the cringe-worthy humor of "Scary Movie" involves bodily fluids of every kind. The film skewers the already tongue-in-cheek "Scream" franchise and raunchy gross-out comedies such as "American Pie." To spoof a spoof, director Keenen Ivory Wayans tests the extreme limits of R-rated bad taste. In other words, all signs point to "Scary Movie" enjoying the rabid support of its target teen audience.
Miss Oteri, who plays an aggressive news reporter similar to the one portrayed by Courteney Cox Arquette in the "Scream" movies, hopes that teens also appreciate the highbrow concepts behind the lowbrow gags.
"It wasn't just an easy parody. We didn't just copy everything," Miss Oteri says. "There were a lot of original ideas thrown in there, and a lot of it is a reflection on pop culture. If you do comedy just for shock, whether it be sexual, or bludgeoning someone, the audience won't buy it. You know what? It gets old real fast, just like a comedian that does stand-up and curses the whole time and talks filth and trash. If there's not a reason and a real point of view behind it, the audience won't accept it."
Miss Oteri learned the finer points of the laugh craft onstage with the Groundlings improv group. Growing up outside Philadelphia, she had not considered a career in comedy. She spent several years doing temporary work, before finally moving to Los Angeles to break into the music business.
Miss Oteri began moving up the ranks of the publicity department at A&M; Records, where she was the office cutup. At the suggestion of a co-worker, she tried out for the Groundlings and has never looked back. After a few rough years of hard work and slim earnings, she aced an audition for her dream job on "SNL."
Now comfortably into her 30s (she refuses to divulge her exact age), the versatile Miss Oteri has invented a broad range of characters for the show. Her most successful remains Arianna, the bubbly Spartan cheerleader. Miss Oteri also is a riot as Rita DelVecchio, the nasty, self-appointed neighborhood watchdog, and she does a piercing Barbara Walters impression. Now Miss Oteri is looking to branch out with her movie roles, but that will not be easy.
"There's not a lot out there that is really funny for women I think," Miss Oteri says. "The roles that are have so many people up for them, it's very competitive. There are films that aren't necessarily comedies, but are wonderful films that I find funny. But what I do on 'SNL' doesn't necessarily lend itself to those, because 'SNL' is very big, broad comedy. So to do what I want in film, I'm either going to have to create it myself, or have somebody really believe in me and say, 'You know what, I know that she can do this.' So it's difficult, but it's difficult even for established people in film. There's not a whole lot out there."
Miss Oteri has made the most of her few big-screen opportunities. She impressed Jim Carrey when he visited "SNL" to host a show and worked with him again playing his secretary in "Liar, Liar." She also had a walk-on role as the mayor in "Inspector Gadget."
The entertainer aims to follow the path of "SNL" alum Bill Murray. A comic who graduated from "Stripes" to "Ghostbusters" and lately to "Rushmore" and "Hamlet," Mr. Murray has had "a pretty cool career," in her estimation. She will be well on her way to a cool career of her own if audiences respond to "Scary Movie" in the same way as they have at preview screenings.
"A lot of the people have seen this movie, not just 14-year-old boys. The adults that have seen it laugh, even the critics that come from a journalistic background. That's a tough crowd. Those people are hard to please, and they've been around. Some of them said, 'I didn't want to, but I laughed.' "
Miss Oteri flashes a wide smile. "I told them that's OK."

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