In 2008, The Kids in the Hall were doing a reunion show at Las Vegas’ TBS-sponsored Comedy Festival. The line stretched all the way down one of those impossibly long, character-free ballroom corridors that make the upper reaches of most casinos feel like a well-appointed Soviet bunker.
Dave Foley waded into the queue, dishing out crowdwork while fans lost their collective minds. Backstage after the show, Foley and Scott Thompson chopped it up with a pre-Last Week Tonight John Oliver and Rob Riggle. The Kids had killed. Oliver killed. Everyone was loose, laughing, having a great time.
Naturally, it was the last hurrah for any big comedy shindig in Las Vegas.
Fast forward to January: Hannibal Burress had a show at the Fremont Country Club during CES weekend. The line went up Fremont, all the way down Sixth, and at least halfway up Carson. It rained the punishing winter drizzle of the kinds of places people come to Las Vegas to escape.
“To see people lined up around the block in 43 degree weather? Okay, [the time is] here,” Paul Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain, along with his wife, Kacky, are bringing Crapshoot Comedy to seven Downtown venues May 18-20, and about the only measures of continuity between the two festivals are a headlining stint by Dave Attell (like Rome, the Eternal City, timeless and filthy), and the unending appetite for comedy in this city.
The Chamberlains got their start in the festival game in 2014 with the Maui Comedy Festival, featuring heavy hitters like Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane, Greg Proops and Ron Funches. Having lived in Las Vegas from 2008 to 2013, and returning in 2016, their hunch was that they could do it again on the mainland; that the time was finally right to revive something here.
“The one that moved the needle for us was when Seth MacFarlane did his show at Encore,” Chamberlain said. ”We heard anecdotally and on social media, ‘Finally something fresh, something new.’ Okay, there is a hunger amongst that 2 million that we can pull from for 6,000 to 10,000 tickets, theoretically.”
Chamberlain called on several comedians with whom he’d worked in Maui to build an impressive roster for a first-year festival, tentpoled by Attell and Tig Notaro while featuring a mix of up-and-comers and established, Comedy Central staples like Matt Braunger and Kurt Braunohler. Most of the Crapshoot schedule is built around showcases, many of them themed: NSFWinDTLV, Nasty Women and Cleanish among them.
Keeping a festival going is a tricky endeavour. The roadside is littered with the bones of the Comedy Festival, CineVegas, Vegoose …
But Maui had enough industry buzz that Crapshoot was born with some gravity to it. And that gravity includes how players in the business of comedy might be attracted to this. Chamberlain says he’s already heard about the possibility of “secret shoppers” from networks attending the showcases.
“We are trying to achieve a model that the industry is happy with,” Chamberlain says. “The industry wants Vegas to be a viable market again. But the price points at the clubs, the intermingling with comics who might not be ready for prime time is kind of anathema. And there are comics that just hate the Strip. When we put it here, everybody breathed a sigh of relief. But there’s a great desire for the industry to come back here. That’s what Crapshoot is. It’s stand-up 1963 in Vegas.”
Six Acts to Catch at Crapshoot
Dave Attell Jim Norton once said of Attell, “I don’t want to know what he’s doing, because it’s just going to bum me out to listen to how great his mind works.” High praise well-deserved from a career delivering laser-guided precision strikes joke after joke.
Matt Braunger Ding-Donger With Matt Braunger might be the greatest podcast name of all time, and somehow perfectly encapsulates Braunger’s quasi-aggressive, quasi-doofus persona. On his three albums—Soak Up the Night, Shovel Fighter and Big Dumb Animal—there isn’t an ounce of fat.
Tig Notaro There’s drawing from your life, and there’s being brave in comedy. And then there’s Notaro, who performed shows topless after undergoing a double mastectomy, patient as a hunter through it all to soak up every drop of awkward.
Kurt Braunohler A Braunohler set makes you feel like a Jack Russell terrier on one of those agility courses—scampering like crazy, constantly adapting to unexpected hurdles and hopeful that when it’s all over, there will be sausage.
Morgan MurphyMurphy’s low-key, Steven Wright-like demeanor (and hair) is the perfect frame for her never-see-the-knife-coming material, which runs the entire gamut from self-loathing to other-loathing.
Sam Jay This up-and-comer has been featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Meltdown, bringing a perspective to socially charged material that can be occasionally reminiscent of the deeply missed Patrice O’Neal.
Crapshoot Comedy Festival May 18-20, times vary, $10-$49/show, $79/day, $299-$999/fest. Downtown venues, crapshootcomedyfestival.com.