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Las Vegas strip comedian relishes role as museum ambassador

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

Jeff Civillico, the star of “Comedy in Action” at Paris Las Vegas who’s been performing on the Strip since 2012, has been named the first ambassador of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which opened in 1991.

Director Marilyn Gillespie said the post came about in an effort to raise the profile of the museum on Las Vegas Boulevard North, north of downtown.

“We still get, ‘I didn’t know we had a natural history museum,’ ” Gillespie said. “And we have a lot to tout.” The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, which just 3 percent of the country’s museums can claim.

“We’re also a federal and state repository for fossils and other archaeological things,” she said. “We have the only paleo lab in Nevada.”

Gillespie conceded that the idea is a little “out of the box” for a museum, but she hopes Civillico will be able to get the message out, through videos, social media and more.

“One of the board members saw his show and was raving about it,” she said. “He’s a comedian and does juggling, and he’s a very intelligent, articulate young man — very upbeat, just high-energy. He has a family show; we’re promoting to the same people.”

The Review-Journal talked to Civillico, 35, about the new venture.

Review-Journal: How did you get involved with the museum?

Jeff Civillico: I had a show six nights a week for six years. Last year, I wanted to switch focus. I would do an occasional corporate event here and there, and perform outside Las Vegas. I also run a nonprofit that’s now national. I still wanted to have a presence on the Strip as an entertainer, but wanted to get involved more in the community and diversify and do some good. I was kind of making time for this without even knowing it. I had done a shoot at the museum a year or two ago, started getting more involved. I met some board members, got to know Marilyn.

Why do you think the museum isn’t better known?

It’s been here so long — way before it was cool to put Las Vegas on the map for something other than entertainment. I think the time is right. We’re a world-class city; this is totally in line with the football team and the hockey team and the Lou Ruvo Center and The Smith Center, all these great institutions that are taking hold in Las Vegas. Why shouldn’t we have a world-class museum? The thing is we do; people don’t know about it. There’s a lot of exciting things happening, with finding dinosaur bones in Nevada and finding new species of dinosaur.

Isn’t this an odd fit for a comedian?

My comedy show is just my medium that positions me to do these other things. I’m also an all-ages family guy. I’m kind of a hidden-gem family attraction in Las Vegas, and so is the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. People who know me don’t think this is weird at all. I went to Georgetown (University) and am an honors grad; I’m on the board of Georgetown. My brother’s a neurobiologist, a Harvard Ph.D. who works for the (National Institutes of Health). My dad’s a dentist, the other brother a doctor. There is science in my family. I just hosted an event for the NIH in D.C. in April. I’m an intellectually curious guy. I read a lot — anything that’s interesting.

What do you hope to accomplish as the museum’s ambassador?

Awareness. I sent out a newsletter of my own to my own mailing list and people were really ecstatic. A lot of people admitted they didn’t even know we had a natural history museum. A lot of people said they were going to bring the family — learn about how to find fossils, look at dinosaurs. It’s something a little different, something new, not the same old family attractions that everybody goes to. Awareness, and bring some more influencers to the scene as well as sponsors.

Place you always take visitors:

Is the Jeff Civillico show a bad answer? With paying tickets? No, I love the Peppermill. Either with family or friends, if they want to grab a casual bite, that’s always a stop for me for sure. Any of that kind of old Vegas appeals to me.

Newest Las Vegas discovery:

I rediscovered Mount Charleston as a resident. I have a little place on the Strip, and moved to Mount Charleston just to kind of have some distance. I’ve been loving the summer; once it got warm, I just love sitting on my balcony, drinking coffee or wine, doing a little reading.

Latest obsession:

Exercise. I had two (orthopedic) surgeries and was out for about a year and a half. I had to ease back into that. I love biking and cycling; now I can really get back on the horse.

Biggest indulgence:

Cooking. I’ve slowed down my pace of life a lot. I’m now doing normal-people things, like going to the grocery store and cooking.

Favorite place to vacation:

Zion National Park

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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