Taking No Prisoners

It doesn’t matter where you sit. He will find you.

“You don’t have to be up front. I’m comin’,” says Vinnie Favorito.

Not that anyone’s complaining. On a Strip crowded with more familiar comedians, this far from household name is expanding his ranks by insulting people. His act is an update on classic Don Rickles, full of arched eyebrows and wiseguy sass, awash in ethnic stereotypes. Favorito takes no prisoners and guarantees no two shows are the same.

After more than two years working in the Flamingo’s annex casino O’Shea’s, the Boston-bred comedian hit the ground running when he moved to the Flamingo Las Vegas’ main floor last month. Now he is packing the cozy 220-seat Bugsy’s Cabaret.

His material, he notes, stems mostly from three questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? And what do you do?

Warning: Euphemistic answers to the third question bring on the worst of his wrath.

A server?

“Here we call it ‘hooker.’ “

Dealing in “tobacco products”?

“So you’re a killer.”

Working in “secondary education”?

“Why don’t you just call it middle school? You’re trying to trip up the blacks so they won’t show up? They’ll do that on their own.”

It’s all in the attitude though. Before he dives into the audience, Favorito already has sacrificed himself on the altar of Italian stereotype. By the end of the set, when he points out that this is how it should be — people of all types laughing together — he has made Rickles’ summary point without the sentimental piano music.

As the room empties, the people he has burned line up for photos, or instant CDs of the show. Some tell him it’s their second or third visit. “We are truly known for the most repeat business,” he says.

It has been a steady climb since Favorito moved to Las Vegas in 2004. Bill Voelkner, who runs show operations for magician Mac King’s show at Harrah’s, was looking for a side venture. He had noticed the reaction whenever Favorito headlined The Improv at Harrah’s and backed the comedian’s longform debut at Binion’s in 2004.

In late 2005, the two resurrected a shuttered 150-seat theater at O’Sheas. “We turned nothing into something,” Favorito says. “I know we lost tickets every night because people didn’t know where it was. But whenever people did come over, I won them over and that’s how I built my fan base.”

When The Second City vacated the Flamingo in August, Favorito says he got the nod over contenders such as Roseanne Barr by doing his thing at a human resources event for hotel employees. “We haven’t looked back,” he says. “I’m the new face, but I’m coming on 20 years doing this job.”

The 48-year-old cut his teeth in comedy-rich Boston, going onstage for the first time on his 25th birthday.

By then, he was a Navy veteran who had returned home to one job he still hasn’t extracted from any audience: spray-painting floating buoys. He and his father were running a breakfast-and-lunch counter when his parents spotted an ad for a $60 class that promised to cure stage fright and teach the basics of stand-up.

He remembers his mother saying, “You always got in trouble for your mouth. Go make a living with it.”

In 1998, he moved to the West Coast and won the San Francisco Comedy Competition. By then, his act was half scripted monologue, half crowd work. “I was actually steered away from crowd work” on the club circuit, he says, because other comics “have a tough time following that kind of thing.” His manager told him, “Wait until you climb the ranks.”

“So I wrote more jokes and tried to be part of the game. But my real goal was to do what I do.”

Now, his opening monologue is down to an all-time low of seven or eight minutes. The rest is left up to his knack for remembering names and professions. “I’ve always locked things in and I don’t know how I do it,” he says. “It’s scary to me sometimes.”

Favorito and his wife are preparing to adopt a baby next month, and he has shed 10 pounds in the gym. “I’ve basically taken over his life,” Voelkner says.

“He has just stepped in and done amazing things,” the comedian agrees. “I’m just not a together guy in that way. I just wasn’t managing myself right. I’d pay a bill, but I lived by the day.”

The sky’s the limit now, and “It’s a whole different respect for me. Instead of the Burger King dinners, now I get the steakhouse dinners.”

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

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