Getting Serious About Being Funny

Getting Serious About Being Funny
by J. Tyge O’Donnell

Do you think you’re funny? Were you voted “Most Witty” in high school but never pursued it as a calling? Is doing a one-time stand-up routine on your bucket list but your arm still needs a little twisting to get around to it? Fortunately for us fun-seekers, Las Vegas has an abundance of comedy clubs, open mic forums and even workshops that can help inspire, coach and empower you to get your witticism on like a true top banana.

 Open Mic Nights

One of the best places to get your feet wet is at any of the numerous open mic nights in the valley. A quick Internet search yielded ReBar on Main Street, Urban Lounge on East Charleston and Noreen’s on East Tropicana as some of the venues that have weekly stand-up comedy events. In my neighborhood I discovered that the enduring Sand Dollar Blues Lounge has a “Monday Funday” comedy night hosted by local funnymen Ryan Bourassa and Ian Rineer. Located off Spring Mountain Road just east of Chinatown, every Monday night starting at 7 p.m. one can “Show Up, Sign Up, Go Up” for four minutes of stage time. While this may not seem like a long time, it can be an eternity if you’re a fledgling amateur.  I saw some acts come up short and have to scroll through their cell phones to remind them of material. Rest easy though, you’re among friends here (a typical night has upwards of 30 participants) and many in attendance know each other and rely on word of mouth and social networking for support while also promoting the local comedy scene. As host Ryan told me, “Most of us are friends who have been working together for months or years. It’s quite the community, which is why I stress that the underground scene is where it’s at.”


If you’re not shy and think you’re a natural at tickling people’s funny bones, seek out Ryan Bourassa and his comedy gang on social media (or just show up one night!), and you’re good to go. If you ARE a bit timid, but you know there’s a comedian inside of you that’s just dying laughing to get out, read on because being funny can be serious business!


Las Vegas Comedy Institute


Professional comedian Don Barnhart has been teaching comedy workshops at his Las Vegas Comedy Institute on Valley View and Desert Inn for the past seven years, but before going legit, Don taught his comical expertise to the masses out of his garage. What are his qualifications? Well, for the past two years he’s been headlining regularly at Jokester’s Comedy Club downtown (at The D Hotel & Casino) and he averages about 250 days per year travelling the comedy circuit, including going overseas with either Armed Forces Entertainment or with his own to entertain our troops abroad. Don cut his teeth during the mid-1980s L.A. comedy scene and calls people like George Wallace, Jay Leno and George Lopez his personal friends. But, more importantly, he’s a funny guy and is willing to share his knowledge.  


The author of the bestseller “Finding Your Funny,” Don offers a popular six-week Standup Comedy Workshop in addition to classes on comedy writing and improvisation. “If you want to learn to play tennis you get a coach. Comedy is the same,” Don states. “I’m not sure you can teach someone to be funny but you can work on an individual’s technique and help develop his or her style.”


What are some common mistakes that aspiring comedians often make? According to Barnhart it’s being too raunchy, dirty or vile before being funny. There’s a time and place for “dirty” but being funny and getting laughs should precede it. Also, streamlining your jokes is important, as you don’t want to waste too much time setting up a joke when the punchline is short and quick, because it will only underwhelm the crowd.


Want to learn the comic ropes from a funny and kind-hearted professional? For a price that’s cheaper than professional tennis lessons, you can do just that by booking your workshop at

Checking Out the Clubs


If you’re more of a voyeur than an exhibitionist, there’s plenty of ways to get your laugh on. Sure, there are prominent comedy outlets in town (L.A. Comedy Club at the Stratosphere, Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM, Laugh Factory at the Tropicana) but I decided to stay close to home (while avoiding Strip traffic) and visit the Rio’s Comedy Cellar–the new and faithful sister venue to New York City’s legendary club that’s been producing comedic geniuses for nearly four decades. The 250-seat venue is intimate and simple and, although not in a basement, has a low ceiling just like the original back east.


On the night I attended, the 80-minute show was hosted by actor and comedian Mark Cohen who provided quick-witted laughs between the four acts that consisted of Leo Flowers, Mia Jackson, Ricky Velez and Don McMillan. My hands-down favorites of the quartet were Ricky Velez, thanks to his monologue about ugly babies (Comedy is subjective. Don’t judge me!), followed by Leo Flowers with his discourse on healthy eating. Even though Ricky and Leo were my faves, all of them were funny and managed to bust my gut more than I expected. Were any of the comedians raunchy or vile? Hardly. Sure, there was some profanity (the club is 18 and over) but it was timed right and, dare I say, even appropriate? Tickets run from $25 for general admission to $55 for VIP seating which, compared to other shows in town, is an awesome deal and would make for a great date night. You can buy tickets and see who’s scheduled to appear at the Comedy Cellar by visiting and be sure to click on the Las Vegas link. 


Whether you’re a natural or need a little coaching, being funny is an art that one has to hone in their own style. It’s a challenge, and as any veteran comedian will tell you, they’re always learning, even after years and years in the business. Luckily, here in Vegas there’s plenty of fodder and humor-help around if you know where to look. As Artie Lange says, “Vegas means comedy, tragedy, happiness and sadness all at the same time.” It’s not the funniest thing I’ve heard from Artie, but it’s true!