Night of the Living Dead Audience

Comics earn their pay when squaring off against an indifferent crowd

Photo by Don Graham

Photo by Don Graham

Do this long enough and you forget. This night was a forget-me-not.

Inside the Plaza’s nondescript, curtained-off Bonkerz comedy club, this critic is reminded of how hard it is to do what this column critiques.

“C’mon, work with me guys,” comedian Warren Durso fairly pleads to 20 impassive faces scattered before him, barely mustering a handful of giggles between them. “Pick a topic, I’ll do a joke.”

Only a 60-minute set, but each minute feels like an hour as Durso, self-proclaimed “ugliest comic in America” and a genuinely funny man, wraps his debut week as a Bonkerz regular. Invoking the violent vernacular of comedy performance, Durso tells me later that he and opening comic Lou Magelowitz “just destroyed” in front of a receptive audience one night earlier. What a difference a day and unpredictable crowd chemistry make.

Subbing for Magelowitz and attempting to warm up folks who aren’t just chillin’ but chilly, super-trouper Shayma Tash (who also opens for Carrot Top) goes beyond her time limit to try to hand off a workable vibe to Durso. With her dead-on impressions of trashy Jerry Springer Show audience members and celebrity screwing (Al Pacino schtupping Fran Drescher, Gilbert Gottfried diddling Julia Roberts) she arouses half-hearted snorts and lazy applause before Durso enters to stare into the snoozy abyss.

What does he try? What doesn’t he? Honey Boo Boo. Rednecks who can’t spell. Blowjobs. Car-jackings. Prostates. Vaginas. Bacterial sprays. Japanese cabbies. Losing weight on diet shakes and crack. Drinking hallucinogenic saki. Giant cockroaches that want to split a takeout pizza with you.

What does he get back? Coughs. Cackles. A once-every-few-minutes laugh. Clap … clap … zzzzz … Sometimes I laugh because he’s funny. Sometimes I laugh because the silence is crushingly cruel.

“You wanna see what I see?” he asks, frustrated. He stares, unsmiling, arms crossed. We stare back. He plows on, a pro toughing it out to the end, when he says, “Thanks, you’ve been a great audience.”

Graciousness? Sarcasm? Both.

Schlepping to so many shows, it’s easy for critics to turn jaded, elitist, even obnoxious when not entertained to the level we feel entitled. Given opulent, sensory-engulfing Vegas productions from Broadway musicals to global headliners to Cirque extravagance, we can forget the guts of a lone man or woman with a mic, literally surviving on their wits.

This man worked a harder hour than I ever have or ever will.

Better nights will come. Great nights, even. On this lonely Wednesday night, there is simply show-biz heroism on a small Las Vegas stage.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: They named it The D* Word—A Musical. They subtitled it *Ditched, Dumped, Divorced and Dating. Trade ’em all for just one: *Done. After a run amounting to an overnight quickie, the so-so original musical about a quartet of forty-something single gals in search of new love, from the team behind Menopause The Musical, shuttered on September 1. Reportedly, its reception at LVH’s Shimmer Cabaret wasn’t exactly lustful.

Sorry, ladies. Somewhere out there, love awaits. Until then, there’s always speed dating and vats of Häagen-Dazs.



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