Man 1, Bank 0, a hilarious 90-minute multimedia one-man show that played The Carolina Theatre in Durham on Jan. 25th and will play in Wilmington on Jan. 27th and at the Clayton Center Auditorium & Conference Center on Jan. 28th, is a real scream. Indeed, it earned a standing ovation Wednesday night.

This headline-grabbing real-life adventure, written and performed by the man who lived it, is a classic David-vs.-Goliath story. The opponents are 28-year-old Patrick Combs, a free spirit then living in San Francisco, and corporate giant First Interstate Bank of California, with whom Combs had had an account since age 16.

On April 26, 1995, on a whim Combs deposited a junk-mail check for $95,093.35 clearly marked “non-negotiable” into his checking account via an ATM. He endorsed it not with a signature, but with a smiley face, and he said he thought at the time that he might be brightening some terminally bored bank employee’s day with what he calls “a random act of banking kindness.” But the ATM teller didn’t get the joke, and credited his account with the entire amount of “The Little Fake Check That Could!” Weeks later, when the money was still in his account, Combs had the bank issue him a cashier’s check for $95,093.35; and he put it in a safety deposit box at the bank branch where he usually did his banking.

Man 1, Bank 0 chronicles the bank’s outrageously heavy-handed response when it belatedly discovered its error, and Combs’ multiple attempts over five and a half months to give back the cashier’s check in exchange for a letter from the bank acknowledging its error and absolving him from future responsibility in the matter. Needless to say, First Interstate Bank of California whose unfortunate acronym is FICAL huffed and puffed and tried to blow Patrick Combs away with a veritable typhoon of threats, including arrest and imprisonment for fraud and even death (if you put the worst possible twist on one of the bank’s threatening letters).

A mesmerizing storyteller, Combs vividly remembered his fear of criminal charges; and, mid-performance, he quipped: “I can’t go to jail as the first person in history to rob a bank with a smiley face!”

Shaggy-haired, clean-shaven, casually dressed Patrick Combs, who claims that he is neither an actor nor a comedian, demonstrates a fine flair for comedy and impeccable comic timing in Man 1, Bank 0. This highly amusing solo performance, performed in an hour and a half without intermission, brilliantly employs slide projections of key documents in the case, photos of related San Francisco street scenes, and snippets of television broadcasts about Combs’ caper to document his lengthy ordeal to force FICAL to admit the obvious; and Combs also underscores the humor of a number situations by playing excerpts from vintage recordings.

Man 1, Bank 0 is a must-see comedy. This epic struggle, recounted with wry humor and infectious good spirits by the man who survived it, is a truly original tale. Don’t miss it.

Man 1, Bank 0: [inactive 2/06]. At Thalian Hall, Wilmington, on 1/27 – see our Eastern calendar for details…. And at the Clayton Center Auditorium & Conference Center, 111 E. Second St., Clayton, on 1/28 at 8 p.m. ($20. 919/553-1737 or via etix at