Paul Rodriguez looks great at 55. It's his comedy that's getting old.
His new showcase at the Tropicana has the feel of a Comedy Store set from the '80s. Some fans will read that as a good thing, especially if they feel his Mexican-American perspective is timelessly unique.
The less committed are wise to question whether seniority and immigrant pride are enough for Rodriguez to command the main showroom stage at the Trop, instead of the smaller comedy club currently occupied by two hypnotists.
"There is a niche market. Those people that like you or have grown up with you will always come to see you. You grow old with them, you know," Rodriguez explained in a recent interview about this test residency, which is booked until June 20.
"You go see Seinfeld, you get good deli. You go see George Wallace, you get some soul food. I'm gonna serve you fast Mexican food."
Consider expectations duly lowered.
Rodriguez's jokes still play like they are from the emergent days of niche comedy, when it was novel to package tours themed for black, Hispanic and rural white crowds.
There's reinforcement of stereotypes: "White men marry all the pretty Latinas. But I don't blame you (women). You want to be homeowners."
There's Latin pride: "None of us choose the color of our skin. Some of us just got lucky."
There's minority-stereotype crossfire: Doesn't the erectile drug Levitra "sound like the name of a black woman?" And when Taco Bell invented the black taco, they had to go and make it "50 percent bigger than the regular brown taco."
If this is all you seek in a night of comedy, Rodriguez is likable enough, and his jokes are basically universal ("If you live long enough, your parents become your children"). That could be an "aw shucks" epiphany about how we're more alike than different, if he didn't make such a big deal about the Latino thing.
Rodriguez sidelined himself from stand-up for a couple of years to be a California water policy advocate. It could explain why he jumped topics a lot in 45 minutes, never honing in or making you feel like you know him in the way opening act Shayla Rivera did in a lot less stage time.
More than once he felt the need to point out he's not a political comic, just one occasionally sought for his opinions. "That's OK if they shut the border down now. I'm here already," he quipped, quickly adding, "that's about as political as I get."
Too bad, because he seems to have more on his mind than Taco Bell and poop jokes.
Perhaps the marketing simply needs to convey that "The Whole Enchilada" is a club-format, three-comic showcase -- plus dancing girls! -- and not Rodriguez's career tour de force. But the collective presentation was not without some weird surrealism.
Four gals danced at the beginning, then got into an argument with a guy who seemed to be an audience plant.
When Rodriguez came out, the stage curtains opened to reveal a vintage coupe parked amid hotel room furnishings. Near the end, while the headliner essayed a charming discussion on diarrhea vs. constipation, a guy who seemed to be the audience plant took off his clothes and crawled into the bed onstage. But Rodriguez never acknowledged him.
It also was strange to put the dirty comic -- the deceptively baby-faced Martin Adler -- up front as the opener. Adler served as a reminder of why it usually works better the other way around.
Rivera didn't let Adler's raunch set her back one bit. She was instantly charming, explaining her Puerto Rican-Texas outlook with an attitude that upgraded her material. "Relax and hang with us and you'll learn," she told Caucasians, explaining why Latino women aren't just confident in comedy. They are "so sexy, we will wear the latest fashion no matter what our body looks like."
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.