Ventriloquist and magician vie for grown-ups’ afternoon dollars

So the kids are back in school, and those able to make it to Las Vegas without them have afternoon shows all to themselves again. At least on weekdays.

How many of you were actually waiting for this? The D will find out as it tests a ventriloquist with the ultraniche billing “Vegas’ only comedy matinee for adults,” recommended for ages 16 and up.

Matilda &Patrick’s “Ja-Makin’-Me-Laugh” — Matilda being the puppet and Patrick Murray the human — is actually the D’s second afternoon show, slotting into a 2:30 p.m. berth in front of comedy-magician Adam London’s “Laughternoon.”

For audiences, it might make more sense to merge the two into one supermatinee. “Ja-Makin’ ” plays more like a 20-minute variety act stretched to an hour. A variety act without any variety.

Murray — or, to play along, Matilda — turns out to be a one-liner comic: “Why do they call it raw sewage? Do they ever cook sewage?” The rimshot jokes fit right in on the D’s retro-themed second floor, where a sign proclaims “Welcome to Vintage Vegas.”

Matilda is a Muppet-styled Jamaican with an instantly endearing accent. Murray brings her to such fluid life that when she stares at you, you look away.

A couple of times, he throws out long, auctioneerlike runs of verbal dexterity to show off his skill. But if ventriloquists have become our de facto comedy teams, those expecting an Allen &Rossi-type rat-a-tat rhythm to the setups and punch lines may be surprised how much Murray relegates himself to the background.

It’s really a stand-up act delivered by a puppet, with few if any jokes specific to a Jamaican woman’s point of view.

Most are standard-issue, from airports to Las Vegas itself, and some jokes tag on explainers in case you came in too sleepy from the late summer sun. There’s the one about the guy who “misread the sign” for a “slot” tournament. If you need it spelled out, Matilda does: “He thought the ‘o’ was a ‘u.’ ”

The jokes per minute do add up quickly, and Murray/Matilda deliver them with a relaxed confidence. The ventriloquist has become a cruise ship regular, and that’s more or less what the act is about. Those expecting some sort of background story for Matilda, or an arc to the show, will have to settle for a loose theme of travel, from Alaskan bears to Tokyo toilets.

The finale is even the old country song which name-checks cities, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Makes sense for guy who not only lives out of a suitcase, but makes a living from what he carries inside it.

If anyone likes that earlier idea of combining two sparsely attended afternoon shows into one — “A lot of you came dressed as chairs,” London quips — it’s the magician who justifies each minute of his “Laughternoon” time.

However London has managed to make ends meet since early last year (poverty is a running thread of the banter), the stage time has allowed him to hone a meandering hour into a tight, energetic set that serves as a fine introduction to nightclub magic.

Youngsters under 16 are still welcome here, and even get called up to help with the magic that emphasizes comic give-and-take with audience draftees over props and cabinets.

And London’s animated stage presence is almost that of a kid’s show host from an earlier era of TV. Everyone can get the effort that goes into singing “That Old Black Magic” while drawing a cartoon.

But the most unique part of the hour is still a more grown-up feat, in which London figures out which of four people is hiding a certain-color ball by making all four of them tell lies.

Both of the D’s shows blur the line between childhood fascinations and adult obsessions. They just need more people to agree that sounds like a fitting way to spend a Vegas afternoon.

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

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