There is a horselaugh implied in the title of Julia Sweeney's affecting one-woman show, God Said 'Ha!', and it's on the lady herself. Happily, she wears self-deprecation well-like a flag, in fact-and she manages to mine unexpected comedy out of tragedy.

On Aug. 15, 1994, she thought she was sitting pretty. She had just extricated herself from an unhappy marriage and purchased her own dream-house, and, after four years on 'Saturday Night Live,' she was emerging a movie star. It's Pat, a feature-length workout for the androgynous creature she paraded in 'SNL' skits, opened in Seattle and Houston-to no attendance and terrible reviews. The star, you could say, was stillborn.

That misfortunate was quickly bottomed, however, when Sweeney got the news that her younger brother, Mike, was ill. Shepherding him through the ordeal of terminal cancer was harrowing enough; then, she herself came down with the disease. And, to make matters more bizarre, another plague descended on her dream house: their parents.

Is it any wonder she fled this 'surreal nightmare' for the sanity of an alternative-comedy club-The Unacabaret at Luna Park in West Hollywood-where she vented her anguish into comedy routines? When her tribulations ended and she emerged on the sunny side of the street again, she had herself a compelling piece of theatre which played for four sold-out months in Los Angeles and eventually made a (less successful) pass at Broadway. She also turned it into a best-selling book and now, with the improbable assistance of Quentin Tarantino, a very engaging and involving film. Essentially, it is a screen recording of two live performances, stitched into a cohesive whole. Sweeney directed as well.

With pluck and good-spirited humor, she pitches her travail right at you. It's impossible not to relate to it. Whereas mystery enveloped the androgynous Pat (more annoyingly than amusingly), there is no unexplored corner to Julia Sweeney. She is a bona fide, card-carrying member of the human race-and you're pulling for her to come through. God Said 'Ha!' is human comedy par excellence-by one who's been there and knows.

--Harry Haun