Desert Companion

Entertainment: Room for Laughter

A legendary New York comedy club brings its funny business to the Strip

Late last year, after searching nearly three years for the perfect comedy space in Las Vegas, a team of New Yorkers, including Noam Dworman — owner of Greenwich Village’s famed Comedy Cellar — founder Bill Grundfest, GM Liz Furiati, and comedian Robert Kelly took to the Strip and finalized plans for a new venue. The Cellar finally made it official, announcing in a recent Instagram post, “The worst kept secret is finally out! We are opening an amazing comedy room at @riovegas!”

Though the NYC home club of Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Ray Romano, and Jon Stewart has expanded in recent years from one to three rooms, April 5’s opening weekend at the Rio marks the Cellar’s first venture outside of New York. The Comedy Cellar replaces Eddie Griffin. As it has since 2001, the Rio will remain the home of comedy-magic duo Penn & Teller. (And the continuing Chippendales residency should provide Cellar comics with a wealth of material.)

The Cellar’s 300-seat venue mimics the original’s brick walls, acoustically pleasing low ceiling, and eye-catching stained glass. Rather than employing a “headliner” format, with a host introducing a feature comedian, then a longer set from the biggest name on the bill, the Cellar’s “showcase” format will offer performers 20-minute sets across the board.

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“Even in New York, we feel that the headliner format is inferior to the showcase format,” Dworman explains. “Except for a very, very few (headlining) comedians, most people enjoy a show with four or five comedians rather than one. We’ve experimented with longer sets and headliners at the rooms in New York, and we always reverted back to shorter sets and more comedians.”

Of lineups at competing Strip and off-Strip comedy clubs, Dworman adds, “In Vegas, the people typically headlining are not really headliners in the sense of someone who would really headline a New York room, anyway.”

The Comedy Cellar at the Rio’s initial lineup includes New York regulars Marc Cohen, Mo Amer, Kyle Dunnigan, Jessica Kirson, and Nathan McIntosh. “I am so excited to be performing opening weekend,” Kirson says. “The Comedy Cellar is the best club in the country. They have the best venues, the best comics and the best audiences. I feel honored to be asked. It’s going to be a blast.”

And similar to the original Comedy Cellar, on any given night audiences might catch surprise sets from some of the most famous names in the business. “I know that a lot of very, very important comedians have already expressed their desire to play the room … and to drop in,” Dworman teases. “Just like in New York, we don’t schedule those — and I wouldn’t be able to tell you, anyway — but we’re confident that we’re going to have a show that blows away anything that Vegas has seen in terms of consistency of stand-up comedy.”

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