Dom Irrera (right), the top American stand-up, is talking to me while in the middle of his world-tour. He's in Auckland, 13 hours ahead of us. "Let me tell you something about the future. I'm there."

What has pleased this comedian most on the tour is the universality of his material. "I'm in Auckland with my little Italian-American act from South Philadelphia, and they're laughing. That's pretty amazing. I have more trouble with people understanding me in the American Deep South than Auckland - but that's another story."

Travelling the world, Irrera has discovered an international language of comedy. "Audiences can't get every South Philadelphia reference, but certain specifics about people's personalities always hit. In any culture, it's the people who take themselves the most seriously who are the funniest, the people with their noses in the air who are trying to be philosophers. There are also certain neuroses and pains that are universal. No matter how big you think you are, when you close that door, you still have the same fears as everyone else. Money and status don't change that."

Irrera's act majors on his dysfunctional family - another area everybody can relate to. "My family are all a bunch of losers and failed stand-ups. I'm the only one that can flaunt it with my act. They're intense people. The more intense my mother is, the funnier she is. She's always complaining about things I've never heard of. She tells me, 'I keep snapping my fingers - what's that about?' I say, 'Maybe you had an audition for West Side Story you don't know about'."

Jerry Seinfeld, a friend from the American stand-up circuit, invited Irrera to guest as an annoying prop comic on his sitcom. "I only did one episode of Seinfeld, but it's amazing the power that has. It's incredible how hard it is to make a good sitcom. Seinfeld just fell into place because they were independent of network interference and those executives who feel they should say something because they're paid to say something. That takes away the funniness."

For all his success - he has also made successful appearances in The Big Lebowski, Dr Katz, Hollywood Shuffle and The Tonight Show - Irrera remains wary of over-analysing his work. "I always remember the thing Woody Allen said about dissecting comedy being like dissecting a live frog. If you dissect it too much, it's dead."

Dom Irrera is at the Improv, W1 (0171-957 4007) tonight and tomorrow


She may major on just two subjects - cakes and blokes - but nobody does it better than Jo Brand. She headlines an impressively starry bill at "Mob Handed", a benefit, next Friday, in aid of The Comedy Store Fund for Sick Children's appeal for the Children's Hospital in Brasov, Romania. She will be joined at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, W12 (0171-924 9999) by Arnold Brown, Alan Davies, Kevin Day, Ben Elton, Arthur Smith and, in a rare stand-up appearance, Nick Hancock.