Amazing Johnathan’s comedy-magic stands test of time

The Amazing Johnathan and I have this standing arrangement. “I’ll do the same show and you can write the same review,” he says.

Fair enough. That’s sort of how it’s been since he first came to the Golden Nugget in 2000, not realizing then that I would still be in this cubicle and he would still be in town, working his sixth venue.

Now it’s a former buffet at Bally’s. “This is … nice,” he says with comic eye-rolling, then pretending to write on a notepad: “Call Comedy Central. Get another special.”

But it really is kind of nice – old-school cool with its retro chandelier and picture-window views of the Strip. (If crowds pick up and more people have side views, he’s going to need a curtain behind him to screen off some of the distraction and backlighting.)

And I can write the same review if we’re talking about the stage character, once and always a bad-attitude magician who doesn’t really care to do magic. He chucks the linking rings aside – “They’re already linked! There’s a time-saver” – and gets a little freaked out when he picks up what really is “an ordinary deck of playing cards,” because “that would have (messed) me up. This is the deck we need.”

Johnathan still sports the trademark headband, flashes a butcher knife and plays the grade-A … well, as I said in 2003:

“(T)he most extreme example of a guy we’ve all met: the type who will hold out something for you to grab, then pull it away and laugh hysterically.”

But I also said he “comes onstage like a mean drunk, the kind you’d best let the bouncers tend to.”

It’s different now. He’s more soft-spoken and shows the mileage of hard years, including a heart condition and injuries in a February car wreck. More glimpses of his offstage self shine through.

We’re laughing along with him now, less anxious for him to get his comeuppance when tormented assistant Tanya (Penny Wiggins) turns the tables on him, and that’s good because she no longer does.

We appreciate the old riffs the way we do when Keith Richards still cranks them in his 60s. It was headed this way in 2010, when I said Johnathan “seems like an old jazzman playing variations on a theme.”

The poor guy from the audience Johnathan drags up to the stage and torments for a full 40 minutes doesn’t seem as afraid of him. When told to open a can of peanuts, the guy didn’t hesitate. In the past they were always sure it was spring-loaded with something.

But you’re still glad he picked someone else instead. The poor recruit, named Don this time, still has to wonder if his drink has really been spiked with LSD.

The comedy clublike setting has stripped away the production value of past shows. No flashing lights or killer clowns anymore, but some trippy audio delays still sell the acid trip.

And if the lack of a real stage means they can’t do “Bad Karate Theater” in black light like the boom days, there’s still an ensemble feeling that separates this show from ordinary stand-up. Wiggins has been onboard from the earliest days, still winning audience hearts and minds from her shabby treatment.

And now there’s Bruce Block, framing the show with a gut-funny “talking rabbit” prologue and a finale that involves an actual illusion (“I just did an hour without doing one real trick,” the Amazing One had previously boasted).

So, yeah. It’s the same show, within a given framework, and the same review when it comes to what never fails to impress: the sheer number of jokes per minute. A stand-up would wear you out trying to pack in so many laughs. But here, they are changed up as asides, visual gags, things endured by the poor volunteer, or sometimes just obscene gestures.

“Do you like birds?” Johnathan asks someone on the front row, then flips them off. “That’s a keeper, huh?” he says with a self-satisfied laugh.

Strangely, yes.

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

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