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Mr. Traffic puts his foot to the pedal
Out-of-work actor finds his niche with L.A. drivers. 3-31-2000
By Cory Fisher
You never know how the life of an out-of-work actor is going to pan out.
Take Hollywood resident Kenny Morse, for example.
Who could have guessed the guy would one day invent a persona and make a
living as "Mr. Traffic," spouting theories and advice to Angelenos on their
biggest obssession: driving?
Some people seem to have a knack for finding a niche, and Morse has emerged as the Rick Rockwell of traffic.
More than 10 years ago, Morse heard about a friend -- a stand up comedian -- who was pulling in $200 a day teaching at the now-defunct LETTUCE AMUSE U Traffic School. That didn’t sound too bad to Morse, who decided to sign up.
While most people equate traffic school with eight-hours of torturous
monotony, Morse saw it as a challenge. He was determined to make it interesting and entertaining to his students.
"I took right to it, I discovered I had a flare," he said. "I became a
voracious reader on the subject."
Voracious he was. With a seemingly masochistic streak, Morse pored over California vehicle codes. He then moved on to national and international driving issues.
Then one day in 1990, Morse heard a man on the radio giving free legal advice about fighting a traffic ticket. "The advice was wrong," Morse said. “So I called up, and we had a good discussion on the air. They invited me into their Koreatown studio [KFI am 640] and the Mr. Traffic persona was born.”
It seemed that people couldn’t get enough of "driving talk," and Morse
decided to make the most of it. Since then, "Mr. Traffic" has had his own local cable television and talk radio shows. He’s found himself on "Good Morning America," "Talk Soup," and even on an episode of "Murder, She Wrote." He launched a "Mr.Traffic.com" website and continues to receive up to 100 e-mails a day, and still continues to teach traffic school at the Improv Comedy Traffic School, based in the mid-Wilshire district.
"Most people do this as a secondary job," said Improv President Gary
Alexander. "But Kenny’s passion is extreme when it comes to the subject of
In 1998, Morse came up with the winning combination of two of Southern California’s biggest compulsions: celebrities and cars.
His show "Traffic Jam," on KRLA am 1110, routinely had well-
known actors on the air venting their driving frustrations. The most common
gripe was the car that goes too slow in the far left lane.
"Bob Barker talked about the need to have pet restraints, so animals don’t get injured in the event of an accident. Jay Leno said road rage is nothing new.
Walther Matthau discussed seniors behind the wheel," Morse said. Others, such as Carol Burnett, Pat Boone, Shirley Jones, Howie Mandell and Erik Estrada all called in to discuss their pet peeves on the road.
"The hot topics continue to be road rage and teen driving," Morse said.
"Today giving someone the finger can get you shot. As far as I’m concerned, no one under the age of 18 should have a driver’s license. Sixteen-year-olds are too young to be operating a lethal weapon."
So what most infuriates Mr. Traffic? "Drunk drivers, SUVs, children not in seatbelts and people talking on cell phones while they’re weaving and driving 45 mph on the freeway. Chances are the guy who cuts across five lanes to make an off ramp is on the phone," he said.
"You know what I think about while I’m driving?" he said. "Driving. No one seems to think they’re a bad driver."
Morse, who drives a ‘93 Honda Civic, says he knows how to beat a traffic ticket, but he’s not about to do it or tell anyone else how to.
"Most of the time we’re guilty and we know it," Morse said. “The DMV estimates that each driver breaks about 2000 traffic laws a year. I think it’s understated.”
Memorable traffic stories he’s heard over the years include the hearse driver who got a ticket for driving in the carpool lane with a corpse in the back; a man who was cited for having his girlfriend sitting on his lap while he was driving and a man who ran a stop sign and slammed into a police car.
Morse says he will keep milking the Mr. Traffic persona for what it’s worth, because Angelenos can’t get enough of topics related to driving. A co-worker recently coined him the "Martha Stewart of driving."
"Driving in L.A. has become complex, some kind of forum is important," Alexander said. "Kenny’s dedication to the subject is quite unique."
Morse’s cable television show can be seen on Saturday mornings at 11:30 a.m. on the Adelphia cable network. On April 22, Morse and co-host Bill Handel will bring LAPD Chief Bernard Parks, California Highway Patrol Chief Edward Gomez, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona and Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts, Jr. together on KFI am 640 for lively discussion.
"I never dreamed that teaching traffic school would be my link to fame," Morse said. "But I want to see how far it will take me."