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New venue, same slap-happy fun for impressionist Gordie Brown

Men of a certain age get set in their ways. Especially men who have been doing essentially the same casino act in Las Vegas for 13 years.

Comic impressionist Gordie Brown needs time to adapt to his new surroundings in a lounge at Planet Hollywood Resort, which has been retrofitted into a show space he shares with “Comedy & Dolls.” He admitted as much after a recent show.

Talk about a tough crowd. The woman who fell asleep did him a favor.

When Brown spotted her midway through an hourlong set, she gave him something to latch onto and forced him into finally working the crowd that sat right at his feet, but which he had been basically ignoring.

You see, Brown’s show, which ran seven years in the Golden Nugget’s theater, was quite presentational. He’s more showroom entertainer than stand-up comic. The Nugget gave him a band to banter with, so he didn’t really need a comedy-club level of sharing with the audience in the darkened theater seats.

Now his music is on recorded tracks, but Brown, for some reason, still comes out singing “Let’s Dance” instead of just saying hello and proceeds to charge through his song parodies, which are harder to understand because of the sound dispersal in the room.

Things get a lot better when he straps on an acoustic guitar or does his non-singing impressions. That twinkling, confident grin reminds you that a guy who had done so many shows for so many people will eventually win them over. On this night it was the silly one, Mike Tyson talking to Dr. Phil, that finally hit at the gut level, after a complicated bit about Bruno Mars stealing from older songs came off as a lot of work.

Another challenge for a pop-culture impressionist: Spotify and the unbundling of radio means most of us don’t listen to any of the same songs anymore. This crowd ran the spectrum of ages, so Brown tried to punch every generational button, from Johnny Cash to R.E.M. to Ed Sheeran.

Brown’s show also will seem fresher if you haven’t seen him before. Some of his parodies have been in the act for years, and some age better than others. Thank goodness Willie Nelson and Neil Young are still around to be the brunt of weed jokes.

The rare new bit — a fairly apolitical Donald Trump impression — immediately segues into the safety of an old Kenny Rogers riff. But references to Barney the kid’s dinosaur or one-hit wonder James Blunt might test your memory.

As an impressionist, Brown ranges from spot-on to, well, as he says of Bob Dylan, “He sounds like he’s not even trying.” But his specialty is escalating the act into a kind of surreal fever dream, like a slap-happy kid. He got there a few times, with Johnny Cash singing about chips and salsa, or Charlie Sheen fading right into Jackie Mason and then into Owen Wilson auditioning to play Batman.

Brown knows he’s at his best when he stops making sense and spins into the ozone. He just needs to remember to take us with him.

Contact Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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