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Livin' Local: Highway to the Funny Zone…

And Laughin’ All the Way

By Lisha Ross

At times like these, who couldn’t use a good laugh? Then again, who wants to cough up a Benjamin plus for two tickets and a couple cocktails on a casual night out? Affordable comedy wasn’t always this scarce. Cliff Lawrence, a 30-year veteran of the funny scene, remembers the good ol’ days of Vegas comedy. Back when Strip variety shows gave entertainers of all kinds a stage on which to perform their chuckle-worthy antics. Oh but thank the gods of laughter, the shabby chic comedy scene may be on life support but it isn’t completely dead! No matter the occasion, girls night out, birthday, hot date, whatever, here are some great ways to cackle at a rotating line-up of “almost famous” comedians or stand up and deliver yourself, without going broke in the process.

The Club Scene

When the lights go down at Bonkerz, a voice booms over the PA system to welcome you to the ‘shimmering jewel’ of Vegas. It”s the first well-timed joke of the evening. The venue is more evocative of a Manhattan comedy lounge than a Vegas showroom, old school and shockingly smoke-free. The tightly packed chairs are huddled around pizza-sized cocktail tables. There’s a distinct clientele, mostly retirees taking a break from the nickel slots. Heckled by the opening act, a spunky, white-haired lady in the front row admits to smoking Pall Malls, but she emphatically says no to booze and drugs. A tough crowd for a nervous comedian with marijuana jokes on deck. He stumbles awkwardly toward some good jokes, which in itself is amusing to watch, and is followed by the headliner for that evening, Ron Shock, who brought many in the room to tears with colorful language and a fistful of terrific anecdotes.

Whether you go to Bonkerz ($29.95/21 and over), The Comedy Stop at Sahara ($19.95/18 and over), The Improv at Harrah’s ($29.05/18 and over) or the Riviera Comedy Club ($24.99/18 and over), the formula is roughly the same; only the seating is different. The jester-like MC warms up the crowd, a “wet behind the ears” comedian opens, and the experienced headliner, who more often than not has been seen on HBO, Comedy Central, The Late, Late Show or all of the above, finishes the evening. Yes, it’s true, these comedians can be hit and miss, but it’s the ambiance, the mixed nuts in the audience, the funny ups and the clumsy downs that make this laughable comedic opera an excellent choice for a night on the town.

On Being Funny

So you think you’re funny? Perhaps you just need a nudge in the right direction. Take a four-week class at Bonkerz (www.bonkerzcomedy.com) with the aforementioned Cliff Lawrence. Can you start from scratch without a funny bone in your body? Probably not, but if you think you have the funny gene, Cliff can help you structure your act, write jokes, learn how to open, how to handle hecklers and all kinds of other need to know details. The class culminates in a graduation performance; you make a small audience go bonkerz with your own stand-up routine.

Are you funnier with friends? Improvisation is a great way to make being funny a group effort, and you can learn that, too, at Improv Vegas (6320 S. Decatur/www.Improv-Vegas.com), a unique local school offering 6-week improv classes, as well as sketch-comedy writing classes. The way it works is, a group of improvisers join up on stage, ask the audience for a word or phrase, incorporate that word or phrase into completely impromptu scenarios, and hilarity ensues. The great part about learning improv is that it’s not just for people who want to make a career out of being funny. Improvisation, sometimes used by businesses for communication and team building exercises, helps participants learn to stay focused on the moment, improve listening and public speaking skills, get over shyness, think on the spot, and just plain have a good time.

Onyx Theatre

Every Monday night from 8-10 p.m., students from Improv Vegas showcase their skills at the Onyx Theatre (953 E. Sahara Ave.), followed by a more experienced guest group. Don’t let the location scare you. Yes, it is located next to a swinger’s club and under an “adult” shop, but if you can appreciate a bit of rockabilly/beatnik edginess, it really is an enjoyable experience, and it’s only $8! It’s a tiny, intimate theatre replete with concessions like freshly popped popcorn and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as a lounge area with over-stuffed leopard print couches and old Hollywood photos on the walls. More engagingly, the lively and boisterous energy of the audience is contagious. Our experience started out slow, as the first group was made up of beginners, but it quickly snowballed into an avalanche of laughter, with “The Apple Sisters”–three hilarious females–showing us just how spectacularly fun improv can be.

Stagedoor Theatre

Not crazy about visiting Commercial Center? Hit up the Stage Door Theatre at Town Square on Friday and Saturday nights at 10:30 for Free Beer! The Improv Show, where short-form improv antics (think Who’s Line is it Anyway?) take the shape of a frat boy rivalry. Tickets are just $20 and include your first bottled beer, glass of wine or soft drink. All You Can Improv, hosted by a Free Beer! fraternity member every Thursday night at 10:30 p.m., is another opportunity for you to get in on the action. Anybody can join the fun onstage, or even participate by calling out ideas from the audience.

So the next time you find yourself asking your date, BFF, or yourself, what can we do tonight that’s fun AND cheap, head to your nearest comedy club for a dose of the best medicine. It’s great for the soul, I promise.

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