Monkey See, Monkey Do

A new improv show at the Palms combines Twitter, tarot and celebrity

The troubled economy has created a unique paradox in Vegas entertainment: There is an excess of stages and showrooms that need filling, yet never has there been a smaller budget to do so. On the bright side, this quandary allows for a creative freedom that may have never otherwise occurred. And since we don’t live in a recession-free parallel universe where Vegas entertainment consists solely of endless Cirque-like shows with ever-rising budgets, there’s now room for the little guy to take artistic risks.

One such experiment is Matt Donnelly’s Executive Monkeys at the Palms Lounge. It’s a mash-up between improv, stand-up and—since this is Vegas—celebrity. Rather than offering a cheap Second City or another stand-up series, Executive Monkeys feels more informal, like a ’60s Happening with a sense of community.

Producer Emily Jillette (Penn’s wife) describes the show as “long-format improv.” What the heck is that? As opposed to short-form improv (most famously used in the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?), long-form has “no games, just characters, scenes and montages,” according to Donnelly, the show’s host and co-creator.

Executive Monkeys opens with the audience being asked to Tweet anything from thoughts to photographs, which are displayed on a giant screen for the improv troupe to react to.

“Everybody lives around Twitter these days,” Jillette says. “And in typical improv, audiences say the same things and shout over each other. It feels sloppy. Twitter gets around that.” The result feels like an enhanced take on what The Second City did for years at the Flamingo.

For the second act, Donnelly dons his red-spangled psychic jacket and welcomes a celebrity guest to the stage. (Upcoming guests include Tiffany Michelle of Amazing Race and Trishelle Cannatella of Real World: Las Vegas.) Now it’s time for the psychic reading: The celebrity chooses a tarot card, and with the help of two beginner’s tarot books, Donnelly interviews them about their destiny. For example, actress, poker player and Executive Monkeys inaugural guest Shannon Elizabeth drew an Ace of Pentacles. Since it can represent “prosperity,” Elizabeth discussed a future movie that she was working on, among other topics. After the interview, the improv troupe reappears to act out a scene based on the Tarot Reading. In this case, they did a comedic scene based on a movie filming in which Elizabeth added her acting talents. Laughter ensues.

The question remains, will this creative use of improv work as a new and accepted form of Vegas entertainment, or even as a Happening? Pull out a Tarot deck to figure that out, or instead go to the Palms to watch the comics pretending to read the future for you.

Matt Donnelly’s Executive Monkeys, $25, 9 p.m. Wednesdays in The Lounge at the Palms, 942-7777,, Twitter @ExMonk.

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