"I got started playing dress-up in the garage," confessed Lynne Carter at Waaay Off Broadway last night. "Then I went pro." The old pro, probably America's best known female impersonator, dressed up as Phyllis Diller, Mae West, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Whistler's Mother. To get his laughs, however, he relied more on verbal humor than visual authenticity.

Carter worked in the staple subjects of nightclub comedy: food, celebrities and bodily functions. He aimed for a gay audience, though, and all his entendres had a different double. He poked fun at straight bastions like Ashtabula, Ohio, where "they still think dykes hold back water."

Carter proved a better voice impersonator than physical impersonator. Best of all was his imitation of Bette Davis, complete with twitching hands and rolling eyes. He had the good grace to parody himself as an aging, bowlegged fairy with a magic wand.

Each character was introduced by a singing and dancing duo who were good looking but otherwise useless. Carter's musical numbers, backed by a pianist and drummer, were similarly underwhelming. But he scored many times with his constant flow of puns, absurd situations, off-color jokes. Carter is at Waaay Off Broadway through Sunday.