“How’d you find this room, there’s no signs anywhere,” Amazing Johnathan says to the 50-odd ticket-buyers massed by the makeshift stage, surrounded by emptiness that could hold another 180 at Windows at Bally’s, a onetime buffet room. “Bally’s Corporate—well, we’ve got a nice quiet place to rehearse,” he says. Surprisingly, he’s mildly peeved, not genuinely pissed.
Mellowed madman? Yes, or as mellow as the eyebrow-arching, headband-wearing comedy magician gets in his new venue—shared with Tony n’ Tina’s nightly nups—since he relocated there in late August after departing Krave’s Harmon Theater.
Signage for his show is sparse, the upstairs room tucked into a far corner of the hotel. And his new Halloween-themed attraction, the SCREAMont Experiment at the Las Vegas Club on Fremont Street, might be siphoning off some fans from his show. What’s more intriguing, though, is the Johnathan persona shift from dangerous comedy to casual weirdness.
Sure, there’s still knives, Drano-guzzling and the odd crushed bird or two, but he’s kinder and gentler at the edges these days, gore at a minimum and his staged cruelty toward ditzy assistant Tanya (Penny Wiggins) dialed back to fake annoyance. Maybe it’s his heart condition diagnosed five years ago. Or the car wreck he survived earlier this year. Or just time.
Fortunately, he’s just as entertaining, and without the constant threat of pretend mutilation—did anyone really enjoy the sight of him sucking on his hanging eyeball?—easier to enjoy.
Following a funny opening in which Bruce Block, a member of Johnathan’s company, voices a talking-rabbit telling dirty jokes, Johnathan ambles on. Coaxing an audience member to play stooge, he good-naturedly harasses him for 45 minutes, enlisting his target to help with tricks, then setting him up for sight gags and punch lines. Deliciously ironic and postmodern in his approach to magic, Johnathan ridicules our naïve wonder at legerdemain while also teasing us with it.
Exhibiting linking rings, he suddenly notes they’re already linked. “Well, that’s a time-saver,” he quips, tossing them away. Card tricks go cleverly awry. Throw in Steven Wright-style absurdity, as when he jokes: “Tell your friend the word ‘gullible’ is not in the dictionary, then watch him run to prove you wrong.”
Irreverence, even if delivered less manically now, is still his trademark. “You like birds?” he asks someone in the crowd, then brandishes his middle digits. Care to contemplate the Blue Men and oral sex? One visual bit with Tanya does. Political correctness gets mugged when he says “fag” and calls rape “surprise sex.” Yet it’s part of the warped creation that is Amazing Johnathan, even easier to accept now that there’s a geniality to his kamikaze put-on.
And yes, a genuine illusion ends the show.
Kinky comedy is cooler now that the madman has mellowed.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Peepshow’s interim Bo Beep will be Holly Madison peep Angel Porrino. Again. Taking over as lead chest from Madison—as she did during Madison breaks in 2010, 2011 and earlier this year—Porrino will portray the fairy tale sex bomb Oct. 22-Dec. 2. New star Coco Austin arrives Dec. 3 to play La Peep.
Given that Peepshow tries to tell an actual story, shouldn’t they hire an actual actress? Anyone got the number of Meryl Streep’s agent?