Mockit Man

updated 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

STOPPED BY GUARDS AS HE PEDALED a girl's bicycle across the Minnesota border into his native Canada in 1982, Harland Williams wasn't looking for laughs; he had crossed the border in search of a fix. His secret vice was exposed when the border patrol caught him with five boxes of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch cereal, hard to find in Canada. "The guards thought I was crazy," recalls Williams, who got to keep the cereal. "But they made me give them the prizes. That hurt."

Today, Williams, 34, still traffics in absurdity. The rubber-faced comedian stars in Disney's Rocket Man as a computer nerd on the first manned mission to Mars. "I think God gave me an extra immature gene, and I'm wearing it without a belt," says Williams, who comes off like the Three Stooges in one—pulling faces, prat-falling and playing to the last stall in the bathroom.

Williams's slapstick isn't for everyone. Variety says he "makes Pauly Shore seem like Sir John Gielgud." Even Rocket director Stuart Gillard could only roll his eyes after scouting Williams for the first time at an L.A. club. "I kept thinking, 'Maybe we can get Jim Carrey.' " But on a subsequent night, Williams "blew the audience away," Gillard says. "He's a sick, twisted individual—and I mean that as a compliment."

Son of a Toronto lawyer and writer mother, Williams picked up comedic material while working as a forest ranger—"I learned to do a lot of animal noises, loon calls, wolf howls," he says—before turning pro in 1982. The author of six children's books published in Canada, the single Williams, who lives in L.A., dreams of being "the first comic in space" and isn't fazed by the danger: "If I don't come back, someone can have my parking space."

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