Riviera Comedy Club contest seeks best new comic

The Riviera Comedy Club is holding open auditions to find the next Las Vegas Strip comic headliner.

A total of 16 comedians will be selected from submitted entries and invited to perform in a weekly, live competition each Saturday from March 23 – April 13 at 10 p.m. The winner of each of the four live performances will compete for the title of “Riviera Featured Comic” during the finale on Saturday, April 20.

Director of Entertainment Mark Massimino books comedy acts at the Riviera. He plans to invite the headliner who performs at the club the week of the live contest round to help him vet the candidates, and he said that he might even include celebrity judges for the semifinal round.

Massimino is a veteran of the professional comedy scene, and he’s been in Vegas 17 years.

“I know what these acts go through because I was one,” he said. “I’m rooting for everyone who gets up on that stage.”

Still, there can only be one winner.

“The most important thing is originality,” Massimino said. He’ll be looking for comedians who do more than re-hash material from movies and TV.

Not every kind of comedy will work at the Riviera, though. Massimino said that vulgarity and nudity wouldn’t be part of the winning act.

“We’re all adults in the room but [the jokes should be] within reason,” he said.

Candidates must submit a 3-5- minute performance video by either posting it to the Riviera’s Facebook page or mailing in a DVD.

Massimino said that he would like to be able to see every act live, but instead he will have to envision them on stage.

He said that the audition format will help brand-new comedians get a fair shake.

“I’m going to probably watch [each video] five, six, 20 times to see what I missed,” Massimino said, explaining that he will be able to see a comic’s potential even if his or her performance needs some work.

“If someone has never performed before and they just had their cousin film them in the garage, they still have a shot,” he said.

But make no mistake: Massimino is looking for a superstar.

He recognizes that the Riviera Comedy Club is part of a tradition of great comedy in Las Vegas. And that, he said, adds weight to the challenge of choosing a winner. He explained that a Vegas comic should provide something that a member of the audience wouldn’t see in his or her home town.

“Any time you put ‘Vegas’ in front of anything, I think there’s a lot more pressure,” Massimino said. “I think [expectations] are higher than [for] a regular comedy club.”

The bar is even higher at the Riviera Comedy Club, where for 58 years top performers from Bob Hope and George Carlin to Gallagher and Andrew Dice Clay have left crowds laughing like crazy.

“The Riviera Comedy Club is an iconic room,” Massimino said, explaining that the contest winner will have to satisfy an audience that trusts the venue to host class acts.

“Everybody played the Riviera, and I think people know that,” he said.

Massimino will be looking for a comic who has what it takes to join the ranks of the legends who have performed at the Riviera.

“Can you see this act moving forward? Going from a headliner at a comedy club to a headliner in a showroom?” Those are the questions he will be asking as he searches for a winner.

A long-term gig could be within reach for the talented man or woman who makes it all the way.

“If this next person gets to that level, they could be part of the Riviera family,” Massimino said.