Ralphie May doesn’t take his freedom for granted. So now he’s trying to liberate fellow comedians who are really “dirty, filthy animals.”
The phrase comes up more than once when May tries to explain why he’s not only headlining early shows at the South Point this weekend, but lending his name to an ongoing late-night showcase there called “The Dirty at 12:30.”
“We wanted a place in Vegas that had an old-time Rat Packy feel. Because all those guys were dirty, filthy animals,” he says. “They’d just start performing late at night in the casino just for the love of the game.”
The Grand View Lounge — May’s version of the Sands — has been packed every Friday night/Saturday morning since the show launched three months ago by May and Gabe Lopez, a longtime friend and stand-up.
They knew May’s presence would guarantee the first audience for the free show, the rare comedy venture to be directly subsidized by a casino.
But “Dirty” has continued to draw 225 to 350 people to overflow a lounge that officially seats 185, South Point entertainment director Michael Libonati says.
Almost every comedy headliner in the South Point’s main room has taken the bait to do an unbilled walk-on: Pablo Francisco, Heather McDonald, John Caparulo, even the normally clean Craig Shoemaker.
So have other comedians from around town. Night owls recently witnessed the odd spectacle of The Amazing Johnathan and Gallagher onstage together.
Beyond what Libonati calls “the surprise factor” of celebrity cameos, the showcase gives less famous, working club comedians a place to stretch.
For them it’s not the word “dirty” that comes up over and over, but “freedom.”
“It’s nice that comedians can just let loose,” says Jennifer Murphy, who headlined last week. “I’ve done dirty shows before, but usually there’s not a lot of opportunity.”
Summer audiences saw a toned-down version of Murphy at both Big Al’s in the Gold Coast and the L.A. Comedy Club at Bally’s. “If you’re a headliner like Amy Schumer is, you can do whatever you want,” she says.
“But if you’re not already on TV and have total control, then you want to be a little bit respectful so that the club will ask you back.”
“The people who want clean comedy are not a majority, but they are amazingly vocal in expressing what they want,” May says. “The club owner thinks he’s losing all this business, so most of them panic and say, ‘Just don’t be dirty at all.’ ”
Lopez, the hands-on producer and host of the weekly show, says the venture is well-known among Los Angeles-based comedians who call and ask to be part of it.
“There are some comics who are naturally clean, but all these comics have a dark side and they’ll just show up: ‘Hey, I’ve got some stuff. I gotta do it.’ And it is truly no holds barred,” he says.
Anyone who watches Comedy Central and its frequently bleeped stand-ups might be surprised to find the word “dirty” still used as a designation. Isn’t comedy just comedy by now?
“I would venture to say other than Foxworthy, Seinfeld and Bill Cosby, the biggest comedians of the last 30 years have been dirty, filthy animals,” May says.
And Brandon “Gooch” Hahn, a stand-up and radio personality on KOMP-FM, 92.3 who performed last week, notes it’s often the uncensored voice that turns out to be the authentic one for the likes of Doug Stanhope, who started his career way off the Strip at open mics in Las Vegas bars.
“In all actuality you’re just supposed to listen to yourself,” Hahn says. “When you break free from your confines and start doing what you want to do, everyone will gravitate to that.”
And yet the rules remain uncertain. Even Comedy Central’s late-night “Secret Stash” has shifted the goal post for permissiveness, allowing things it didn’t used to.
May says he never set out to brand himself as a dirty or controversial comic. He even made up his own “cuter” words for male and female genitalia for TV.
But his upcoming video release (and likely cable-TV sale), “Imperfectly Yours,” is drawn from “a bunch of dirty jokes I had left over from all my specials. They were always the biggest laughs of the special, but I had to take ’em out because of Comedy Central’s content rules.”
Now, Comedy Central is among the interested parties for the set that was taped at the South Point, he says.
May doesn’t argue the new minefields and taboos in comedy don’t concern sex, but the news.
He had his own backlash — mirroring the Gilbert Gottfried tsunami controversy — for a joke about the deaths of tornado chasers Tim and Paul Samaras (known from Discovery and The Weather Channel): “Sometimes God just cleans the gene pool up.”
“I got in trouble for that one,” he says. “When tornado chasers become catchers and they get thrown around, I’m the dick.”
May’s lack of remorse mirrors the warning Lopez says he delivers at the launch of every Friday night: “If you’re easily offended, get the (expletive) out.”
“Don’t talk to me about political correctness. It has a longer history of being wrong than it ever had of being right,” May says. “If you can’t take a joke, then take a cab and beat it.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.