Contraband Comedy

Not bound by Strip propriety, Comics Under the Influence offers down-and-dirty laughs

The Black Door, tucked in a hidden strip mall just south of Hofbräuhaus, is the sort of scruffy joint that Las Vegans cling to as proof that their city belongs to them, not to the tourists. Its “rock ’n’ roll meets faded lounge” vibe is a fitting complement to Comics Under the Influence (CUI), a late-night comedy set that has been holding court at 11 p.m. Thursdays since June.

Envisioned by creator Eddie Rivkin, the show aims to be a freewheeling, decidedly R-rated comedy set for locals who like their drinks fast-and-furious and their jokes below-the-belt.

“It’s not what you’re going to get on the Strip,” says comic John Hilder, a touring comic sitting in with the group at a recent show. “On the Strip, you have to cater to tourists.”

It’s “old-school, late-night Vegas,” adds Diaz Mackie.

Besides Mackie, the roster of CUI comics includes Mike Simpson, Mike Shields, Phil “Skratch With-a-K” Cummings and Brandon “Gooch” Hahn. Most of the comics are in their mid 20s to mid 30s and have been working for a few years; the youngest, Shields, 22, got started just a few months ago. All gravitated toward comedy as a way to say the things they couldn’t say in real life.

Like the crowds, the comedians are drawn to the raunchy, no-holds-barred atmosphere of the Black Door. As Hilder notes, you can’t drop the “C” word in Indian casinos or on Las Vegas Boulevard. But, for better or worse, you sure as hell can drop it at the Black Door.

And the comedians do. They tell dirty jokes. They use dirty words. They swing on a stripper’s pole. They bash the gong. Mackie comes out in his underwear, Hilder declares that “I like Pepsi and pussy way too much to be a Mormon.” Shields, who looks like a young Curtis Armstrong, comes up smoking and cracks jokes about the whiny comfort of America—where “we have a shit ton of money even when we don’t”—by comparing a self-pitying guy whose girlfriend is mad at him to child prostitution in Thailand. “I understand that your girlfriend might be a bitch. But you know what you’re not doing? Sucking dick at 7.” The crowd claps lustily.

The last comic of the night is local radio personality Hahn. He’s not so much telling jokes but telling a story—by audience request—of doing mushrooms on Fremont Street and winding up on the ground, hoping the cops don’t see him. Hahn just released a DVD of his comedy called Rise to Offend.

The crowd is feisty and clearly having a good time. “Even a bad night here is a good night somewhere else,” Skratch says.

Rivkin says the idea began with conversations with Black Door owner Nico Santucci about bringing comedy to the bar. The idea for a late-night show turned into an idea for a “really edgy show,” says Rivkin, then a “totally uncensored” show, then a show like Lenny Bruce, “then it went from Lenny Bruce to Lenny Bruce meets the Rat Pack.”

Rivkin looked for the best local talent in town. He describes his comics as a “cool group of guys who get along well and push each other to be better comics.” He likens the show to being backstage with the comics and listening in as they tell the kind of off-color, off-the-record jokes that make comedians crack up. He’s trying to bring that energy onstage. Eventually he wants to move to a bigger venue and put the show on the road. Send “three or four of those guys anywhere on the weekend, and give [audiences] a comics’ comic kind of show. I don’t think it’s really being done anywhere.”