Themes, puppet sidekicks help lesser-known comics

Las Vegas is so crowded with comedy that anyone new moving in better bring a catchy theme, or a Jamaican puppet.

The D Las Vegas recently made room for a new afternoon show, Matilda &Patrick’s “Ja-Makin’-Me-Laugh.” Matilda gets top billing, even if she’s the puppet brought to life by ventriloquist Patrick Murray.

Monday brought the arrival of “40 is Not the New 20,” a long-form comedy piece from Matt Kazam offered at 10 p.m. at the Riviera.

Kazam says his piece has more structure and flow than a typical comedy club set, but it’s not as tightly scripted or theatrical as “Defending the Caveman.”

“It’s jokes, like traditional stand-up comedy, but it has the point of view and depth of a one-man show,” he explains. “The great thing about this is I’m able to go in front of it and really set up the point of view of why I thought of this and where that joke came from.”

As the “no-duh” title suggests, 45-year-old Kazam speaks about and for his generation, which has “such a unique lens that we can look at life through.” People now in their 40s spent roughly the first half of their lives before the Internet reached every household and the second half in the new era.

“I talk about when there were three stations on TV and TV used to end at midnight,” he says. Not only do today’s 20-year-olds have a hard time processing that, “they also think it should be told to them by someone much older than me.”

Kazam is no stranger to Las Vegas; he was a regular at the Palace Station’s bygone Laugh Trax more than 10 years ago. But the “40” theme got him lots of bookings on the corporate circuit after he thought of it at age 38, when he fell in the shower and gashed his head.

“When I was 20 I was having sex in the shower,” he says of his first “40 is not the new 20” moment. “From that one joke came all these other things.”

If you don’t recognize Kazam from Palace Station, it’s because he’s dropped from 330 to 210 pounds. The act may be all about 40-somethings wishing they were young, but you won’t find Kazam mocking vegetarians, juicers or raw-food diets.

“I’ve been skinny eight times in my life because I tricked my body” with diets such as Atkins and South Beach,” he says. When sleep apnea, diabetes and high cholesterol all added up to a mild heart attack, “I had to find the real answer.”

Murray doesn’t seem as alone on stage as Kazam does, but says it’s coincidental that his afternoon show at the D launches just before Jeff Dunham moves to town in November.

But the rising tide carries all dummies. Dunham and Terry Fator have “changed the opinion on ventriloquists” and expanded their audience, he says.

His act used to be similar to theirs, rotating several dummies. But once he introduced Matilda around 1987, “it just seemed that this character was something people really, really related to,” he says.

“It was so hard to put her away and pick up another dummy in the middle of the show that I just started to write it more like a traditional comedy team, rather than a traditional ventriloquist act.”

Eventually, “I gave her top billing and tried to do the Edgar Bergen-and- Charlie McCarthy thing where he kind of took a back seat to the puppet and everyone remembered the puppet.”

Part of the magic is in Matilda’s Muppetlike look, which is “more friendly and less evil looking” than traditional wooden-headed figures.

The rest of the formula draws from battle-of-the-sexes and fish-out-of-water humor. And the funny accent. People just love Jamaicans, he says, and “their outlook on life.”

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

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