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Downtown Las Vegas comedy show returns amid COVID

Updated June 29, 2020 - 7:22 am

In times of COVID crisis, a comic will turn to comedy. In that tradition, check out Don Barnhart’s new prop, which is kind of a Frank Sinatra-meets-hazmat suit.

Barnhart has glued a clear-plastic shield to a fedora. This is what it’s come to, ladies and germs. See it, and him, this weekend at Downtown Grand’s socially distant comedy festival, formally called “Delirious Comedy Club.”

Barnhart debuted the apparatus Friday night in an open-mic night at the neo-hippie annex Happy Earth Market in the Commercial Center. He got laughs.

“We did a test-run of face shields in plexiglass, and a shield with a face mask,” Barnhart said, matter-of-factly recounting what had do be a very weird night of comedy. “We are prepared to wear them. We’re ready for every curveball and contingency.”

A veteran of the stand-up wars, Barnhart headlines two shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday in the “Delirious” reopening. Established pros Brandon James and Greg Vaccariello fill out the lineup, with guest sets expected from Derek Richards, Kathleen Dunbar and Mark Pitta.

This is a simple sort of booking, under normal circumstances. But as we’ve learned, “normal circumstances” were postponed indefinitely in March. Barnhart, the club operator along with the lead comic, has been working on extensive venue prep just to host this lineup.

That includes whittling the room capacity to 40, from its fire-code limit of 166. Social distancing provisions are being enacted. Plexiglass is planned for the stage. “Mic condoms,” which are exactly what the description implies, are swapped out for each comic. And Barnhart is especially proud of “The COVID Moat,” the unseated area in front of the stage that separates the comics from the crowd.

Where this gets a bit ticklish is that Downtown Grand, the hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas, is hosting a ticketed entertainment event. This has raised some eyebrows from operators on the Strip, for starters, who put on shows in ticketed venues that have been shut down during the COVID pandemic.

But the Downtown Grand room, formerly called the The Mob Bar, then Las Vegas Room, is a hybrid bar and convention space.

Importantly, the room is licensed with the city as a bar. As Downtown Grand GM Kevin Glass explained, that means his hotel can present entertainment in Phase Two under bar provisions — with at least 50 percent reduced capacity, social distancing and the latest mandate that all guests are required to wear masks.

“We are even going further, with about 60 percent reduced capacity,” Glass says. “And all guests and employees wearing face masks was something we were requiring even before the state mandate.”

The issue of Barnhart selling tickets to his show is a provision in his existing lease agreement with the hotel. There is no specific reference to ticketing, or cover charges, or even a two-drink minimum, in the Phase Two protocols pertaining to bars or restaurants. “The Hilarious 7” comedy series at Notoriety at Neonopolis sells tickets in a venue classified as a bar, and Friday night Notoriety is also hosting the ticketed “Late Night Magic” show.

The Delirious club is among several Las Vegas venues licensed as bars or restaurants in the City of Las Vegas and Clark County staging ambient entertainment. Because of that distinction, live entertainment is allowed at such hybrid Strip venues as Mayfair Supper Club and Petrossian Bar and Lounge at Bellagio, Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan, and Piano Bar and Carnaval Court at Harrah’s. The Venetian has re-activated live performances at St. Mark’s Square, and dueling pianos are back at Bar at Times Square at New York-New York.

Also, live entertainment has returned to such off-Strip venues as Notoriety, Tuscany’s Piazza lounge and Copa Room, Bootlegger Bistro, Sand Dollar Lounge and The Golden Tiki, among other Las Vegas hangs. Station Casinos has returned entertainment to Hank’s at Green Valley Ranch and T-Bones at Red Rock Resort.

Conversely, venues licensed as showrooms are not permitted to operate under the state’s Phase Two directives. Even a fully masked, socially distant, reduced-capacity Atrium Showroom at Luxor, for one example, cannot bring back Carrot Top — even if he is wearing a face prop.

As a friend recently joked, “The word of the year is ‘circumvent.’” Agreed. We should develop a civic fictional character, Sir Cumvent, to explain the do’s and don’ts of live entertainment in this city.

Barnhart, at once funny and responsible, is enforcing a safety-first emphasis. He’s in line with the performers, entertainers and resort officials attempting to reopen safely while serving a public thirsty for entertainment.

“We’re making the best out of a bad situation,” Barnhart says. “We need to make sure everybody is safe. But if people want a place where they can laugh, come hell or high water, we’re going to give them that.”

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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