Big Al’s looks to cash in on laughs

How much stand-up comedy can this town support before it hits the fake-brick wall?

We won’t know before Saturday, when Big Al’s Comedy Club opens at The Orleans.

And our opinions may not matter as much as the guy taking the risk. Joe Sanfelippo is bullish on his new club-format ventures at both The Orleans and the nearby Rio.

“Can you pull people off the Strip to see a generic comedy show? Definitely there’s a question about that,” he says, given the four club-format rooms on the Strip and one downtown. (We won’t even start in on the resident headliners, big-name weekenders, improv shows, etc.)

Sanfelippo, who helms the Bonkerz club chain in the rest of the country, has decided an off-Strip operation needs the “captured audience” of a high hotel room count, which the “Crown Comedy Jam” enjoys at the Rio’s Crown Theater.

Either that, or “you have to have some kind of celebrity draw to really make the thing work on a regular basis.”

That’s why Big Al’s opens Saturday with Grandma Lee, the salty septuagenarian best known from “America’s Got Talent.” Lee “did very well” last year in a similar residency at Palace Station, he says, before he rebranded the Bonkerz club for Louie Anderson (whom he says also is prospering there).

“Every single week we sold more tickets right to the end. We could have kept going, I think,” Sanfelippo says of Lee. This time, Lee plays through July 2 in the 200-seat venue replacing the Big Easy Lounge. She will most likely be followed by a package hosted by Kato Kaelin, the infamous cabana guest of O.J. Simpson.

At the Rio, the “Comedy Jam” has done well enough in its first 12 weeks to become a seven-night operation, supported by street promotion and a locals deal, which includes two drinks for about $20. …

“Legends in Concert” has become the second longest-running show in town (after Bally’s “Jubilee!”). The original impersonator revue celebrates its 28th anniversary today. But all month long, locals can get in for $28 (plus taxes and fees). The lineup stays current by including a tribute to America’s new TV sweetheart, Steven Tyler.

“Legends” always features Elvis, but only one. To see multiple Elvi, you have to go to Fremont Street this weekend for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The winner goes on to the finals in Memphis. …

“Jersey Boys” star Rick Faugno had great luck in stepping out with his own autobiographical showcase of crooning and tap-dancing in 2009. Now he’s trying it again, casting his musical net beyond show tunes with “Body and Soul” on May 27 at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret.

He’s very aware that he will have to diversify his audience as well. An 8:30 p.m. start might be a bit late for the older fans who flocked to his matinees at the South Point. …

“Breakfast with Bugsy” lasted a mere week at the V Theater, a victim of either its own success or theater operator David Saxe trying to serve too many masters.

I wrote April 14 of the venture possibly opening the door to breakfast shows in the tradition of Branson, Mo. But this one didn’t try to sell a ticket. It chose instead to imbed a variety show at the V Theater with infomercials and an optional post-show pitch for a rewards card.

“It started growing exponentially,” Saxe says of the free breakfast show, at least until he heard from three time-share vendors. All of them claimed the rewards card was competition, and if he persisted with the morning show, they would quit buying tickets for his evening titles.

(Saxe, like most midlevel producers, depends on condominium owners to buy show tickets in bulk, which they give away to people who sit through pitches.)

But did this short-lived experiment pave the way for a straight-up, ticketed morning show? “It was hard enough to get people to come for free,” Saxe says. There’s a lot of places to eat breakfast in this town, including restaurants right across from and next door to his theater in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

“If you charge even a dollar, it changes the whole vibe of it.”

Finally, no such thing as “Too soon!” this time (if you remember cries that greeted Gilbert Gottfried’s Sept. 11 jokes at a roast not long after the attacks).

Joe Trammel, the prop comic in “V — The Ultimate Variety Show” might have been the first confirmed Las Vegas bin Laden death joke, getting big applause Monday with a visual gag about the killing.

He had to work fast, since prop comedy is more complicated than a one-liner. “But this is a have-to-do thing,” Trammel says. “I’m sure every comedian on the planet is working on it. But for me it involves a task.” In one day, he and his fiancee assembled a bin Laden-on-a-stick for him to wave around during a bit where he wears a mask of President Obama. The crowd went wild.

Maybe they’ll hire him to be the Aflac duck.

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

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