JERRY SEINFELD MAY BE CRAFTIER with a credit card, and June Allyson more Depend-able. But when Madison Avenue has a need for a nerd, the man they're apt to tap is Chris Dollard. Remember the harried dad in the toy store who suddenly swoons over a life-size Isuzu Rodeo? And the groom nervously eyeing his "bride"—a Radio Shack cellular phone? Or how about the JC Penney shoe salesman who hurls boxes like Joe Montana? They're all Dollard, 27, a character actor and onetime circus clown who, for all the work he's been getting—14 commercials in the past 18 months—might as well still be layered in greasepaint. "No one comes up to me and says, 'Aren't you that guy from...?' " he reports. "There's something about me that just makes me blend in."

And that makes him perfect for advertisers. "We wanted someone who could play [a] type you felt you knew: the guy next door," says Rich Silverstein of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the agency that created the Isuzu spot. It also helps, he says, that Dollard is "goofy-looking."

The youngest of four sons of a retired New York City cop and his wife, a homemaker, Dollard originally planned on being a gym teacher. Playing Fagin in a 1986 production of Oliver! at Hampton Bays (N.Y.) High School helped change his mind. "His teachers said they had never seen anyone with so much talent," recalls his father.

Dollard majored in theater and phys ed at Wagner College in New York City, but dropped out in 1989 to enroll in an improv workshop at Chicago's Second City. A year later, enticed by an ad for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Clown College in Sarasota, Fla., he decided to try his hand at comedy's "physical side." Signed for a year's tour, Dollard traveled in the clown car on the circus train, right behind the showgirls' car. "Mostly the showgirls would go for the guys who had the main acts," says Dollard. "But I already had my date."

Her name was Kristen Segarra, and she fell in love with Dollard that summer when both were performing at Hershey Park, Pa. "He was outgoing and a lot of fun and very sweet," recalls Segarra, now 24. "He always walked me home." And when he joined the Big Top, she found a job there too—riding an elephant named Julia.

When their tour ended, the couple moved to New York City, where Dollard landed spots for HBO and a discount-store chain. In September 1994, he and Kristen wed, and the following spring she joined him in Los Angeles, where he had already gained a reputation as a Man for All Commercials. Lately he has done guest shots on Fox's Mad TV and the UPN sitcom Malcolm & Eddie.

Offscreen, Dollard is on a roll too. On the beach, not far from his two-bedroom West Hollywood cottage, he indulges in his favorite pastime, volleyball. "It's amazing," says actor pal Mike Hagerty. "Chris can be horizontal and hit the ball, and somehow it trickles over the net. Volleyball or acting, things just go his way."

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
DANELLE MORTON in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Danelle Morton.