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Comedian Jon Lovitz looks back on ‘SNL’ days

Asking Jon Lovitz what it’s like watching his old “Saturday Night Live” sketches is like asking Michael Jordan what it’s like watching highlights of himself dunking against the Detroit Pistons.

“If I watch this stuff, I’m kind of impressed by it, to be honest, because it’s like, ‘How did I do that?’” Lovitz said in a phone interview last week. “It’s like if you’re an athlete. It’s a strange feeling. So much time has passed that it’s almost like watching someone else. Could I do that again? Nooooo!”

But as Lovitz says today, “My stand-up is a different story. My stand-up is tight!”

Lovitz is currently headlining the Laugh Factory at the Tropicana, finishing an eight-show run Wednesday night and back July 26-28, July 30-Aug.4, and Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

Lovitz’s Laugh Factory schedule expanded as he took over Louie Anderson’s original dates at the club. Anderson is unable to perform because of an injured right knee.

Lovitz, who turns 64 on Wednesday, was an “SNL” cast member from 1985-1990. Some of his audience members at Laugh Factory are now too young to recall some of Lovitz’s best-known characters, including Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar who landed each wildly improbable claim with, “That’s the Ticket!” In a show last week, someone in the front row shouted at Lovitz, interrupting the bit. Lovitz casually remarked, “That’s not the ticket.” It was the only hint to his “SNL” past.

Over his five years on the show, Lovitz displayed his range by playing the Master Thespian, who illustrated the method for his success by calling out, “Acting!” He also took on Hanukkah Harry, the Faustian demon Mephistopheles, Tonto, Michael Dukakis and Harvey Fierstein.

Lovitz still occasionally watches “SNL,” where the cast has ballooned from the nine repertory performers in his first year (including Robert Downey Jr., Dennis Miller and Randy Quaid) to 20 today.

“The cast is all funny, but when you have 20 cast members it’s hard to stick out,” Lovitz said. “I don’t think they want you to stick out. That’s the feeling I get.”

Lovitz recalls a recurring sketch when he played Tonto, with the late Phil Hartman as Frankenstein and Kevin Nealon as Tarzan. The three were seated on an interview panel during a talk show hosted by Nora Dunn’s Pat Stevens character. Hartman began laughing, violating one of show creator Lorne Michaels’ golden rules: Never break character.

“So Phil is just dying laughing, out of the blue, and it was just contagious,” Lovitz said. “We’re all laughing. My face is in my arm. None of us knew why he was laughing.”

Afterward, Lovitz asked Hartman, “Phil, what happened?” And Hartman said, “I was thinking about how ridiculous we must’ve looked to people at home watching me as Frankenstein, and I just lost it.”

Lovitz later recalled an appearance a few seasons ago, playing attorney Alan Dershowitz, “It just felt like being at home. That’s what it feels like to me, going back there, you know? It was my original job.”

LaBove memorial

The late, great stand-up Carl LaBove was celebrated at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club on Sunday. Garrett and master of ceremonies Allan Stephan (a member of the Outlaws of Comedy troupe with LaBove and Sam Kinison) led a series of LaBove’s friends and fellow stand-ups. Laugh Factory club operator Harry Basil, Pauly Shore, Brian Regan, Tom Rhodes, Bobby Ludington, and Craig Gass all spoke from the stage. LaBove’s brother, Larry, represented the family. LaBove’s caregiver Jason Atkinson, and longtime friend Danny McFadden were also among those paying tribute.

LaBove died of cancer April 23 in Las Vegas. On Friday night, Basil unveiled the The Carl LaBove Booth honoring the universally liked and respected comic. The tabletop is a montage of LaBove photos. The first guests to sit in the booth were members of LaBove’s family, who shed tears as Basil pulled the tablecloth away. That booth will be filled with memories, and also laughter, in honor of one of the greats.

Maher keyed up

Bill Maher took home a Key to the Las Vegas Strip after his return weekend to the “Aces of Comedy” series at The Mirage Theater. Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom presented Maher with the key, which of course is separate from the Key to the City, given out typically within the Las Vegas city limits.

Maher is famously a Vegas fan. He has headlined on the Strip for nearly 40 years, after his first appearance opening for Diana Ross at Circus Maximus at Caesars Palace in 1982.

Maher is due back at The Mirage on Nov. 26-27.

“As all things in America skew toward what’s safe and politically correct, it’s more important than ever that we have Las Vegas in all its glory and love for freedom,” Maher said after receiving the key Friday night. “Vegas and I have always been, as they might say at the tables, a natural.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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