Kathleen Dunbar threw out the first joke of the first night of the reborn comedy club: "Anybody wants to buy a football autographed by O.J., let me know."
Palace Station finally is famous for something. And every stand-up comic who plays Bonkerz Comedy Club probably will mention the hotel-room raid by Simpson, now a guest of the state.
But in the pre-O.J. era, comedy was one of the things that kept Palace Station on the radar. Despite a few detours, stand-up has been the most successful format for the casino’s 250-seat club since 2001.
The latest incarnation is operated by Florida-based Joe Sanfelippo, who runs 18 Bonkerz outlets, mostly in Florida and the Midwest. He has an established network of dependable, almost-famous comedians who might be just the right $34 ticket ($24 for locals) for those looking to escape the bad news without getting themselves much deeper in debt.
Some of the talent, such as lead-off headliner Dean Napolitano, might even look familiar if you watch enough TV to catch them in roles such as "Cop" or "Hoodlum No. 1." The budget-conscious format holds each week’s roster to two comedians who both get to stretch; the opener does about 20 minutes before the headliner’s 50-minute set.
Because Napolitano and Dunbar were chosen to launch the club and do two weekends, you can assume they are representative of what to expect down the road: nothing too extreme or political, but each of them able to come up with different takes on irritating text-messagers.
If you’re looking for profound, save your coins for Lewis Black or Craig Ferguson on the Strip. Here, you are more likely to smile knowingly at jokes about Southwest Airlines or trying to figure out all that double and triple-roll business when buying toilet paper.
"We need to relax in this country, settle it down, talk about balls more," Napolitano tells the crowd, referencing his running obsession with various ways to injure one’s scrotum.
He’s a comic with central appeal, crude enough for the younger crowd, but casually authoritative and good-looking enough to sell it to the retirees if he talks about his 80-something father — "He’s at that age where he just bitches about everything" — and his big Italian family.
Most of his material taps one of comedy’s basic threads: "In my day" jokes comparing then to now. Napolitano doesn’t actually use the phrase, but deftly works it from both directions. He talks about vintage playground death traps such as the seesaw and kids who grew up in the pre-car seat era, when daring to buckle a seat belt was an insult to the driving skills of the dad behind the wheel.
But then he flashes forward to talk about his dad battling the laser-automated paper towel dispenser, and his own shock at how much the gumball machine costs now, even though the gumballs still bounce out onto the floor.
A lot of his ethnic jokes bounced as well, not because they were offensive but because they seemed to come out of nowhere. Napolitano fared better when grounding the humor in his own life, such as the time he tried to use one of his dad’s stock lines on a store clerk and found out it’s not so cute coming from a younger person: "You know they got pepper spray behind those counters?"
Like Napolitano, Las Vegas comedian Dunbar probably is used to doing shorter sets, and likewise takes a few minutes to wind up to the good stuff about "the sex" and a drunken hookup.
The Milwaukee native is unflinching about her own age and body type as she rushes to lash out at the young and hip. On this night, where more of the crowd was more in her age range, Dunbar had a hard time finding someone "younger than 31" to assail in the crowd. If that demographic holds, Sanfelippo’s opening-choice instincts were strong. In this economy, you program for the people who buy the tickets.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Review Bonkerz Comedy Club 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday Showroom at Palace Station, 2411 W. Sahara Ave. $34, $24 for locals (547-5300) Grade: B- (this weekend’s lineup)