Palace Station brings back laughs

The laughs return to Palace Station, where the enclosed lounge reverts to stand-up comedy after tabling a big expansion into a country nightclub.

The former Sound Trax becomes Bonkerz Comedy Club on Jan. 15, the newest in a 17-club chain based in Florida (where 10 of the outlets are found).

Owner Joe Sanfellipo has other locations in tribal casinos and "really gets the interaction between the club and a casino," says Judy Alberti, vice president of entertainment for Station Casinos.

Plans to blow out the east wall of the room and build a new Gilley’s (to replace the one at the Frontier) are on "terminal hold until we figure out the economy," Alberti says. The company also has the new country-themed Stoney’s North Forty at Santa Fe Station opening New Year’s Eve.

Comedy has been the room’s most successful format over the years. It was best-known as Laff Trax, when it was booked and operated directly by the casino chain. More recently, it was leased as the L.A. Comedy Club, which moved to Trader Vic’s.

Alberti says comedians cite the 250-person capacity and details such as the stage height for making it ideal for comedy.

Sanfellipo agrees his timing could be better than opening during a traditionally slow month in a battered economy. "We’re going to walk before we run," he says. "I have enough depth of experience to roll it out slowly. If the room doesn’t make money from day one it’s not going to hurt me."

The Bonkerz network gives him "a really deep resource of comedians," so he’s "not looking for a fight" by pulling performers away from the four stand-up clubs on the Strip. The early slate of headliners sticks with almost-famous veterans whose faces might be more famous than their names: Dean Napolitano on the first two weekends, followed by Big Tony Esposito, Grandma Lee, Mike Allen, James Yon and Mike McCarthy.

Nevadans get a $10 discount off the $29 ticket, and the club will be integrated into Station’s players club and point system. …

"The Real Deal," an interactive poker game show, closed abruptly at The Venetian last week. Observers close to the action give mixed signals on how inevitable this was.

There seems to be agreement that veteran TV producer Merv Adelson (no relation to Venetian Chairman Sheldon Adelson) was pushing to sell the project as a TV game show, and had less experience in the day-to-day matters of running a live Las Vegas production.

Bill Voelkner, manager of host comedian Vinnie Favorito, says the show’s numbers were improving along with its content. But others say that while it was the producer’s decision to close, the production wasn’t a straight rental, or "four-wall" arrangement. Instead, it was a partnership with The Venetian, which has its own financial woes. The casino apparently reduced its level of commitment to advertising, making it hard for the show to continue. …

The always-fascinating saga of "Fuego Raw Talent" continues. Yes, the show as we know it is closing at the Sahara on Jan. 4. And that is possibly bad timing for a new reality series, "Fuego en Vegas," debuting at 6 p.m. Saturday on Telemundo.

The series tracks the lives of the cast members, and sounds like it could follow the show through an attempted conversion into a nightclub format, where the performers would serve as "environmental" entertainment. The Rio, which had good luck in the past with a Latin club format, has been mentioned as a potential location. …

Finally, today was to mark a Christmas debut of the interactive "Shear Madness" in a freestanding theater in the Town Square. But thanks to delays with building permits, producer Terrance Williams is now hoping ticketed previews will begin very early in the new year.

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

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