Comedy abhors a tiny audience. So discounted tickets and special deals for locals are easily found in town. As a result, locals here are connoisseurs of the sort of laughs that Vegas offers. But unlike other cities where comedy takes on a regional or even local flavor, comedy in Vegas is, by and large, meant for vacationing tourists.
The late George Carlin had this to say about Las Vegas for comedians: “It is the most dispiriting, soul-deadening city on Earth.” Carlin was fired in Vegas a few times over the decades for his edgy routines. As recently as 2004, Carlin claimed he had been terminated by MGM Grand for being “too dark.” Vegas is not a town for comedy about controversy, politics or humor weighed by artistic ambition. Vegas audiences like a dirty joke but never humor pushing envelopes of convention.
The “Entertainment Capital of the World” wants comedy that appeals to all, and that often means offending no one. The battle for laughs in Vegas is often fought with a metaphoric arm tied behind the back. So, to choose the funniest comedian in Las Vegas is to sort through a list of candidates whom no one would call cutting-edge—with the one exception being Penn & Teller. But that does not mean Vegas comics are not funny. Knowing how to make people laugh in the midst of the Great Recession is every bit the challenge for comics who in prosperous times mock our complacency with humor. The best Vegas-style comedy offers an escape from problems with smiles.
Our leading comics fall into certain types. There are those who specialize in insults, such as Don Rickles and Bobby Slayton. There is also the shtick mixed with topical jokes that George Wallace does so well at the Flamingo. Other Vegas headliners, such as Louie Anderson (Excalibur) to Rita Rudner (Harrah’s), can be gentle to a fault. Rudner’s relationship-based humor is particularly good match for Vegas. Carrot Top’s self-deprecating, prop-driven humor will never be confused with Lenny Bruce, but for years he has proven to be a solid entertainer.
So, who is the best? You tell us.
We would like to submit Wayne Brady as a possible dark horse. Out of action so far this year, yet among the best comics in Las Vegas, he will soon re-start his show at Venetian. Brady epitomizes Vegas comedy with his mastery of entertaining an audience with humor that never bites or stings but bubbles up as joyful laughter.