'Fitz of Laughter'


Every night, Kevin Burke performs "Defending the Caveman," a comic one-man play that expands the horizons of Las Vegas entertainment.

Then he heads a couple of doors down to another Fremont Street casino and performs the kind of show more people still come to Las Vegas to see.

You know, the old-fashioned variety act with magic, comedy and mind reading. And if the comedian lasciviously eats fire while winking at a gal in the front row? Or bonks people from the audience on the head with swimming pool "noodle" toys? Better still.

It may push the analogy to say "Caveman," accessible in its own right, is like eating your vegetables. But "Fitz of Laughter" is definitely the dessert.

The cheesy name, inspired by the host property Fitzgeralds, suggests a conventional stand-up comedy showcase. But you can see that anywhere.

Burke is more classic Vegas with his card tricks and mentalism, which reveal his background as a magician.

The delivery surpasses the material, but that's no slam on the guy. It's more to say he stops at nothing to entertain, even if it means playing the "Gilligan's Island" theme on a kazoo or doing a Mickey Mouse voice to set up a parody of "It's A Small World."

If Burke's stage presence in "Caveman" echoes John Goodman circa "Roseanne," here it's more revved up; maybe John Belushi or Chris Farley if they had lived to mellow a bit in their 40s. A basic likability and a big, barrelhouse voice help sell some weak prop gags and a guy's rebuttal to the women's dating handbook "The Rules" that's as predictable as the book itself.

A title like that means the book "must by definition be a game," Burke figures. "And if it's a game, men must win. ... Don't leave your team's playbook laying out on the bookstore shelf."

The audience isn't sure whether to believe Burke when he tells them there is vaudeville in his family heritage, that his great-grandmother was a fraudulent psychic and that he did time as a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus clown.

But the act touches all those bases, from slapstick to an impressive mind-reading trick in which an audience member chooses a random word from a book and Burke guesses it.

Reconstructing all this in cold type a few days later, I realize some of the descriptions may trigger dangerous levels of eye rolling. So you have to trust the old cliche: It's all in the delivery. I wouldn't have believed he could get guys in the crowd to chant "I am Spartacus!" either.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

 

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