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December 20, 2014

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The Laugh Factory models in L.A. and Las Vegas are not quite alike

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The Laugh Factory

Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada.

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Murray Sawchuck's grand-opening performance at The Laugh Factory in Tropicana Las Vegas on Monday, June 4, 2012.

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Last Monday night, I was in Los Angeles “working on a project,” as they say in the metropolis that Herb Caen once termed “El Lay.”

This is how you impress people in Los Angeles or people who conduct business there: Talk fleetingly of your project. As in, “I am working on a project, and I also am taking a meeting about my project.”

If there is anything a Los Angeleno respects more than a project, it is a meeting about the project. How a conversation rolls out after you tell someone from L.A. that you are in town on business.

L.A. Person: “What are you working on?”

Me: “A project, and meetings. Meetings about my project.”

L.A. Person: “That’s great. You have a development deal?”

Me (blinking): “Of course.”

I was working a project, genuinely, about Jimmy Kimmel for sister publication VEGAS Magazine. During the afternoon, with cousin A.J. as my running mate, we sat in the audience for a taping of Kimmel’s late-night talk show, effectively titled “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” We clapped on command and watched as Kimmel artfully navigated through an interview with actress Mary-Louise Parker, who has two movies out: “Red 2” and “R.I.P.D.”

Those films were released concurrently over the weekend. Parker is always either working on a project, or is between projects, and doubtless takes many meetings.

In the evening, we hit the restaurant at Chateau Marmont, where we spotted action-film actor Jason Statham. I was tempted to remind Statham that I’d once interviewed him (or, rather, fired at him a dopey question that needed to be repeated three times) on the red carpet of the Las Vegas premiere of “The Expendables” at Planet Hollywood about three years ago. But he seemed busily immersed in conversation and some sort of leafy foodstuff.

Later we strode past a cluster of paparazzi (another piece of El Lay culture, which is not so prevalent in VegasVille) to the famous comedy club The Laugh Factory. The Laugh Factory was founded by comedy-club overlord Jamie Masada, who has opened a Las Vegas outpost at the Tropicana in the room designed and built by Brad Garrett.

There is a joke that has been winding through the comedy industry for years about Masada’s hardscrabble climb to prominence. A version: “Jamie Masada arrived in this country from Iran with $7 million in his pocket and a dream …”

Masada was in Vegas as I was in L.A., but I hit The Laugh Factory anyway, even though I’d hoped to catch Masada at the club that launched The Laugh Factory chain (including clubs in Long Beach and Chicago).

The Hollywood Laugh Factory is where, in November 2006, Michael Richards unleashed his racist tirade against a group of black fans heckling his act. He gave up performing standup as a result (that was his last appearance at the club), but The Laugh Factory lineup is as strong as ever.

Kevin Nealon and Dane Cook are among the regular, established stars to appear in the club. And unlike its Vegas counterpart, The Laugh Factory in Hollywood is a place for comics of all ilk to develop and hone their acts onstage. It's a breeding ground in the way Las Vegas is not.

Monday was a dual-theme night in L.A. First it was Latino Night, with a series of Latin and Hispanic comics performing for maybe 100 patrons. Paul Rodriguez, a former headliner at Tropicana Theater, was an unannounced performer. There were probably a half-dozen comics to follow, and afterward the audience was dismissed for something called Comedy Bazaar.

The Bazaar is hosted by Tehran SoParvez and is brimming with Persian comics (SoParvez is a good one; when you live in the U.S. and your first name is “Tehran,” you are going to need a sense of humor). If you doubt there are enough Persian comedians in or near Hollywood to fill a bill, you are mistaken.

Eight, nine, 10 ... I lost count. One funnier than the one before. The audience, the night’s second audience, was far more engaged than the earlier comedy fans. As one comic seemed to mope his way through a highly measured set, an audience member shouted, “I’ll have what you’re smokin’!”

I had mentioned to a few of the comics waiting onstage that I worked in Vegas and was in town working on a project, and they were interested in the comedy scene in our city. Comparatively, The Laugh Factory in Vegas is not for newbies or those looking to work out their set list. There is no Tuesday open-mic night, where Masada has long sat with comics after their sets to review what they have just done onstage.

In Las Vegas, you have to be an established, experienced pro to be in The Laugh Factory lineup at the Trop. Harry Basil, who runs the club in Vegas, is a veteran standup who often appears onstage. The afternoon show is comic/magician Murray Sawchuck, who has developed a well-conceived and smartly staged live act. The 7 p.m. slot, for a time, was occupied by Roseanne Barr (and this booking represented the least amount of buzz for a star headliner on the Strip that I can recall). Now it is Gallagher.

This is a way different sort of approach than the nights of comedic incubation at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Gallagher has said he is semi-retired from the stage because of health problems but is now appearing nightly at the Tropicana. He’s been suffering from significant heart problems, through which he is smoking cigarettes, and has become a sort of omnipresent scenester in Vegas. One friend said that locating Gallagher in a crowd has become a real-life Vegas version of “Where’s Waldo,” complete with the striped shirt the comic wore in his Geico commercials.

I’ve spoken to him a few times but not seen his act — and he’s not smashing watermelons or anything else onstage because if the act is so messy and the room is so small, the walls would drip with watermelon juice. Gallagher has a card that reads, “Funnier than David Copperfield, more magical than Carrot Top.” Funny, and not just because Carrot Top has long listed Gallagher as an inspiration.

On Wednesday at Sin City Theater in Planet Hollywood, Gallagher was in the audience for “She-Nanigans,” a budding production headed up by Penny Wiggins (long Psychic Tanya in The Amazing Johnathan’s act). It’s an all-female variety show looking for a backer and a room, a classification it shares with many productions in town. “It’s SHE-nanigans! Get it? All women!” Gallagher said with a heavy dose of sarcasm afterward.

When I asked about how business was at The Laugh Factory, he grinned and said, “They are just waiting for the fall.”

“The fall?” I said, not sure if he meant the season or some sort of economic implosion.

“The fall, for the buses to come in with loads of tourists,” he said.

Gallagher is an eclectic sort, and I’m not certain where he fits in the grand scheme of entertainment in this city. But like they say in L.A., his act, and The Laugh Factory operation, is a project in development.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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