It’s early on a Sunday night. At the top of Mandalay Bay, the Foundation Room is lightly attended. There are maybe 10 people in the lounge, maybe more in the dining room. An NFL preseason game flickers to an audience of none off in a side room.
Yet as you make your way through a jungle of India-inspired décor and dark lighting, you’ll find one room that’s not like the rest. There are plush couches, rows of chairs, a stage in the corner and a crowd of maybe 40, all overlooking a soaring, 43rd-floor view of the Valley.
It’s all in the service of the Laughter Hours Comedy Show, a series that is on the Strip, but not of it. This kind of show you might expect to find in dives, back rooms or other far-flung off-Strip locations. Not in a club that isn’t too far removed from being members-only.
Here it is nearly a year since the show found its home at the Foundation Room, and Laughter Hours is still setting up shop at its unlikely host.
The show is the brainchild of stand-up and former 98.5 KLUC DJ BS Williams (short for BrandonScott, which inspired both his nickname and the name of his entertainment company, ButterScotch). He’s the co-producer, but he’s also the show’s host, marketer, usher, sound guy and even occasional cocktail pitchman for the bar in the back of the room.
The show started in June 2010 at the House of Blues’ Crossroads room before relocating upstairs in November. The talent is mostly local/regional and just-shy-of-famous veterans—drop-ins from George Wallace and Joey Medina notwithstanding. (On one Sunday, a duo of observational comics, Mike Simpson and Mike Krasner shared the bill with a comic/magician, Adam London, who sounded like a Mormon W.C. Fields—without the booze or misanthropy.) “I call myself the Dana White of comedy, because I like the way he puts together a show. Dana White is like P.T. Barnum. That’s what I like to do with comedy,” Williams says.
Like his UFC idol, Williams is doing his part to emulate the idea that the product will be grown through a singular vision and that no one is bigger than the brand. He runs Laughter Hours with a businessman’s mentality, bumping comics who show up late and eschewing the idea of a traditional opener, middle, headliner show structure.
“This is a true feature show,” he says. “I don’t let the guys ever say, ‘So, am I headlining?’ No, you’re not. Just because you’re last doesn’t mean you’re headlining. As a matter of fact, they usually don’t even know the order until the night of the show.”
Williams bites the opener’s bullet himself, doing about five minutes to start the show. He has an easy manner and a gregarious nature as he, in a nod to the many hats he wears in the production, tells the crowd the show’s motto is “low budget, high quality.”
That geniality, though, belies another fact of business: Williams doesn’t want a showcase that revels in ultra-dark material. The idea of placing restrictions on what comics can say onstage is unusual, and seems like a recipe for some contrarian to promise one thing and do another come showtime, but Williams insists his comics know what he likes, and play along.
“There are a couple of things I ask guys to try not to do,” Williams says. “I do not like dead baby jokes. I do not. I try to stay away from guys doing anything that’s really misogynistic that you can’t do tongue in cheek. I do not like rape jokes, abortion jokes. Other than that, race stuff? If you’re doing it to be funny and it’s funny, cool. But like a blatant, racist–come on. A lot of young guys, they do it because of shock. They don’t understand—you got a reaction, but it doesn’t mean you were funny. You made them uncomfortable.
“If enough people think you’re funny, then I’ll find a place for you. But at the same time if you disgust me or I think you’re that offensive, I’m pretty intelligent. Enough people are going to think that’s offensive, too. Go for the laugh, but if you can find a happy medium that would be a win-win? Go for that. That’s the business of it.”
It’s hard to tell whether Williams’ true passion is business, comedy or the intersection of both. He makes it a point to say there are comics he doesn’t like and they know it, but he’ll put them onstage because to not do that would be bad for the production. He talks about mentoring younger comics in the business aspects of the game, about marketing themselves and not taking rejection personally.
Comics aren’t exactly renowned for their business acumen. Still, if poise and polish with a spreadsheet may not exactly recall a Lenny Bruce-esque hurricane of conflict, squalor and self-destruction, it does make a certain long-view sense.
“I loved traveling, but it can be very nerve-wracking. I figured if we can build a brand here and I get it set up, then I can travel and do my thing. If we create a brand here and I know what I want to do, and I do it my way, I’ll always have a spot.”