Most entertainers crave your affection. The Amazing Johnathan flips you off. More than once.
The flip flips the basic balance of power — or at least levels the playing field — and is key to the durable comedian’s genius.
Insult comic Vinnie Favorito also goes to war with his audience, but there the audience has no chance. With the Amazing Johnathan it’s more a tug of war.
Part of the joke is the unhinged comedian is not always in control of his stage. Sometimes he wins, sometimes we do. And when we do, he shakes a voodoo-skull rattle at us and says, "You think that’s funny, huh? Enjoy your car accident."
Johnathan (Szeles) first became a permanent Vegas act in 2001. He bounced around too many venues to recite here, due to an admitted problem with authority figures — particularly if they work for a casino.
Almost two years ago, he moved into the Harmon Theatre/Krave nightclub. It was a marriage made in dysfunctional heaven: The stand-alone theater is hard to find and needed a show people wanted to see. The Amazing Johnathan has loyal fans and a track record for selling tickets even when he doesn’t seem to care.
He holds tough at the Harmon, though the theater is seeking bankruptcy protection and Johnathan’s audiences are more selective, as Spinal Tap’s manager once said. But it’s a quality environment for those who seek it out; clublike and quick with the drink service, just as you want it to be with a performer threatening to shoot your eye out with a rubber band ("Look at me!").
The show changed only slightly and subtly over the years. The 51-year-old now seems like an old jazzman playing variations on a theme, replacing the saxophone with more F-bombs than Pesci in "Casino." It’s basically a three-act structure.
First, Johnathan torments his ditzy assistant Tanya (Penny Wiggins). The two have worked together so long they are like George and Gracie, with enough confidence in their rapport to drop the cruel-funny shock effect of him seeming to staple a card into her head.
Then it’s time for Johnathan to choose a volunteer. Don’t worry about raising your hand, it’s not a democracy. The poor guy will spend the next 43 minutes being tortured in a number of ways, some of them purely psychological: Is there really a clown with a butcher knife behind him?
It’s here the comedian shows his origins as a street performer on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
He can do magic tricks if he really feels like it. "I saw a magician do that once: It went right back into the deck," he says as he fans cards and flips one into an aerial spiral. "We should go see him." But then he breaks down and does it anyway.
The act tends to run out of gas once the poor dude is finally released, with Johnathan on this night spending just another nine minutes doing dirty/creepy/funny things with puppets and doll babies. By then he’s given you more jokes per minute than most stand-up shows. If you still want more, forget it. Remember, he doesn’t much like you.
He does usually have an unbilled opening act, almost always a real magician, doing close-up, Magic Castle-style stuff you don’t see in the big-box Vegas shows. On this night it was Sophie Evans, who is British and the rare magician to work in spiked heels and a top that bares her midriff, leaving one less place to hide things.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Review
9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Harmon Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South