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Comedian building fame on a theme

The days may be numbered for stand-up comedy fans going on blind dates with a club.

The Riviera Comedy Club is lined with ’80s-era photos of now-famous comics (nice hair, Joe Rogan and hello-o-o young Rita Rudner). They told jokes to people who didn’t yet know them, but trusted the club to make sure they had a good time.

Now, comedians prebuild an audience with podcasts or YouTube clips that at least let you sample a headliner.

The Riviera club now has Matt Kazam doing a full-length show at 10 p.m. after the weekly multicomic lineup. And his jokes about Wal-Mart, airplanes and Kardashians aren’t all that different from the guys in the early show.

But Kazam funds his comedic 401(k) plan by giving his show a name and theme, “40 Is Not the New 20,” to build his act around.

This isn’t a tightly written narrative like “Defending the Caveman,” but a wide-ranging stand-up set which keeps coming back to a theme — the differences between then and now — that is one of stand-up’s oldest.

Kazam isn’t the first comedian to talk about how today’s youths are addicted to electronics and never play outside, or how he used to meet a woman “the old-fashioned way: I went to a bar and lied to her face,” instead of online.

But Kazam is the perfect guy to make this work. People at his proclaimed age of 45 are almost evenly half of the pre- and post-home computer era.

It wouldn’t quite play the same if he was a genuine old guy rambling on about the days when TV stations signed off for the night, or holding a cassette recorder up to a radio to make his playlist of Top 40 songs.

And face it, Kazam is one of the cool dads. His patois sounds streetwise without any obvious regional accent. His body is stocky but cuddly: “I go very quickly from Vin Diesel to Danny DeVito,” he says, turning to show himself in profile. And his look is multiracial — he tells us his dad is Iranian, his mom Jewish-American — bearing out a line that “how to beat racism is we all become 19 different things.”

Some jokes stretch the theme to its limits. Yes Matt, pocket calculators were around when you were young; they just cost more. But so many lines come at you so quickly, the ones that don’t land are quickly forgotten. Kazam told me after the show that one short riff alone has nine laugh points.

By the time he got around to runaway ’70s pubic hair and other sex stuff at 11 p.m., the 75-minute show had pretty well worn me out. Whether or not it was too much of a good thing, it did prove the title premise true for this old guy in still one more way.

For those who still prefer the variety of a club format, there’s a new one that’s (so far) free every Thursday in the classy Mob Bar at the Downtown Grand. And like Kazam, this one had a joke about what women wear to bed really changing once they’re married. (Here it was, “I go to bed with Beetlejuice every night.”)

The “Grand Laughs Comedy Show” is assembled and hosted by Paul Scally, who served up no material on the first night that would suggest he’d be better off headlining than doing this. Working his good looks and British accent to maximum en-er-gy, Scally made good crowd banter of stock observations such as the freaky folk on Fremont Street. But his real mission, well accomplished, was to create a fun environment and make it welcoming for the two visiting stand-ups.

No use trying to give this venture a letter grade, since it doesn’t sell a ticket and the quality control could vary week to week. But one thing that shouldn’t change is the fun of having crowd and comics packed so closely.

“Some of you (guys) are funnier than me,” Lance Montalto noted at the end of his set. And when headliner Marc Patrick made a standard crack about one half the room being faster on the uptake than the other half, a guy seated on a barstool yelled back, “We’re closer to the bar!”

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

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