A bad picture of a tiny stage...
Last night, some friends met me at the Alexis Park All-Suite Resort to see a comedy show that I didn't even know existed.
Eclipsed by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino across the street and the new Rumors Boutique Hotel next door, the Alexis Park has seen better days. It was once a premier non-gaming property in Las Vegas. I remember notable celebrities like U2 staying there in the past. Now, it's little more than a footnote.
And the Alexis Park website says nothing about the comedy show on their premises. I guess it's no wonder the place is getting buried by the properties around it. My friends had to reassure me that we were headed to the right place.
I got there a little early, so I waited for my friends in the hotel bar, which was the kind of nondescript room you'd expect at a chain hotel just off the highway in the middle of nowhere. Blandly lit, with a large projection screen showing a feed from the National Finals Rodeo, the bar had a jukebox and a vintage Ms. Pac-Man machine along one wall. The place was clean but soulless.
The assembled patrons, as you'd expect in such environs, were decidedly down-market. There were a couple of cowboy hats, quite a few non-baseball baseball caps, a NASCAR jacket or two, and none of the women weighed less than I do, though all of them were shorter.
Once my friends got there, we ordered drinks. This is when we found out that, despite the surroundings, the bar prices were decidedly ambitious. Three small plastic cups of vodka & mixer cost us $25. I guess, given the feel of the place, I expected dive-bar pricing.
Soon, we were led by our gracious host, Dr. Jim, into the showroom, which was situated just off the bar. An intimate space not much bigger than the bar, the Las Vegas Comedy Show showroom featured a tiny stage flanked by two large video screens. It's the same basic setup I've seen in comedy clubs everywhere.
The opening comedians weren't terrible, but they weren't very good, either. Both (Dave & Gary) were essentially home-grown products whose material needed more polish and substance. Each of them was reduced to commenting wryly on the failures of their jokes.
Of course, I'm one of those strange comedy fans who also enjoys when a comedian bombs. There's something deeply funny about an earnestly-delivered, unfunny bit, when a comedian pauses expectantly for laughter that never comes. So I found myself chuckling quite a bit while the rest of the audience just sat there, stone-faced.
It's also instructive to see which bits bomb and which don't. Dave opened with a flop about his considerable height that suffered from too many weak punchlines, and he tried valiantly to make a crack about a "rape-van" into a running gag. Gary pulled an audience member up to be his "magician's assistant" on-stage, and then didn't do anything with her, trying for a meta-gag that fizzled. And his story about being an auto-mechanic for the cops just went nowhere, ending in a tired racial stereotype.
But then featured-act Joe Lowers hit the stage. Preceded by a cute little video montage that poked fun at the off-strip location of his show, Joe blew into the showroom from the back, throwing off enough manic energy to scrub the taint of blown punchlines from the walls.
It was clear from the start that Joe is a road-tested veteran of crowd work. He was quickly able to turn the audience's boredom and hostility to his advantage with the kind of in-your-face ad-libbing that almost crosses the line to outright verbal attack. He encouraged heckles from the audience and even handled one non-sequitur with an offhand brilliance and timing that had me howling.
Besides the opening video, Joe also had a great set-piece that he uncorked when one woman got up to go to the restroom. On this particular night, the audience reaction was priceless, making me laugh so hard that my stomach actually hurt.
Even when his punchlines veered into racist territory, as when he confused a filipino for an african-american, Joe's fearless delivery and flawless timing kept everyone chuckling. And he mixed up the jabs and bits, keeping it all friendly and funny. He even expertly navigated the interruptions of a trio of large women from Virginia, who evidently enjoyed being part of the show a little too much, though the best piece of audience participation came when a woman from Baltimore admitted that the man sitting to her wasn't her husband.
All told, Joe was on for well over an hour, and he had to cut himself off in order to conduct in impromptu roast of Dave, the opener, who apparently is moving to Texas. Joe even left one bit unfinished, a little tale about getting an apple as a snack while traveling by airplane. Joe never reached its punchline despite revisiting it a half-dozen times during his set.
The ending roast included some comedians who weren't part of the night's show, each doing about a minute of farewell insults to Dave. Again, Joe Lowers was the best of the bunch, with a blistering roast that was both a smart summation of a typical road-comic's career and a shrewd assessment of Dave's own talent.
Once the show ended, we were let back out into that same little bar that had National Finals Rodeo playing. This time, however, we were joined by the cast of the Las Vegas Comedy Show, and we shared a little cake with the departing Dave and his friends. The gracious Dr. Jim introduced us to the star of the show, and Joe himself could not have been more warm and welcoming.
I sincerely hope the Las Vegas Comedy Show grows and succeeds. In Joe Lowers, it has a genuine comic star at its center. It just needs a better supporting cast. And maybe a better home.
featuring Joe Lowers