The Avi Resort & Casino is bringing back what proved to be a popular show with audiences, the First Friday Comedy Series. This year, however, instead of only a summer run, the series will continue throughout the year with the exception of March.
Each month, the show includes three comedians, and kicking things off on Friday, Jan. 4, the lineup consists of Paul Scally as the host/emcee, Richard Weiss as the feature and Key Lewis as the headliner.
All of the talent comes from a comedy organization called The Comedy Machine, which has been supplying venues across the country with some of the funniest clean comedians around.
"To be completely candid, the Comedy Machine came into existence in 2004, and the reason was I didn't like the way the clubs were operating," said Andy Kern, The Comedy Machine founder and spokesman. "I did a lot of comedy clubs myself, and I just decided, 'you know what, we don't need to do things the way comedy clubs do.' So we decided we wanted to present our own kind of brand to basically keep audiences really happy.
"I see a lot of people in the clubs and they just didn't enjoy themselves. A lot of these comedians are offending people — we try to keep our comedy like really inoffensive, and entertaining at the same time.
"That's pretty much our thing," he added. "It's the philosophy in the comedy game that if 80 percent of the people leave a venue happy, you've had a successful show. We don't look at it that way. We want everybody to have a great time. We don’t want anybody to have hurt feelings when they leave a show.
"We like comics that basically care about the audiences. You get a lot of these comedians that all they care about is themselves. Of course, we want them to bring in their 'voice' and do their thing, we want them to keep their artistic form in tact but if they touch upon topics that are offensive toward an audience or maligning to them we ask them, 'can you change or not?' If they can't change we don't use them.
"Comedy is the same as food," Kern said. "If the food is good, people are coming back. If the food's not good, they're not coming back. It's as simple as that and it's the same thing with comedy.
"We appreciate the Avi for having us at their venue and we're lucky enough to produce some comedy and magic concerts for them," Kern said. "Attendance has been quite good and from what I've heard, the people have definitely thoroughly enjoyed themselves at these events. We're grateful for the opportunity to be in Laughlin."
The headliner for the January show has no problem working clean. Key Lewis spent time in Salt Lake City, discovering that if a comic can please audiences there, they can please audiences anywhere. He started his comedy career a bit later in life, after first experiencing it.
"I started a little older than most," Lewis said. "I was a veteran. When I got out of service, I'd always wanted to do stand-up, and I started in Sacramento at this open mic. A gentleman by the name of Del Van Dyke ran this little class and I took his class three or four times. I eventually built up the courage to do my first few minutes and once I got that first big laugh, I was hooked from that day forward. I've been chasing that feeling of my first couple times on stage my whole 14 years.
"I worked for a contractor, so I moved from Sacramento to Seattle and I got into the comedy scene there for almost five years. I was a finalist in the Seattle International Comedy Competition, I got a good little following and started to build from there," he added. "Then I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, of all places.
"Seattle had kind a a 'Frisco-type comedy scene, a bit of dark humor per se and some alternative comedy, but that wasn't really my thing," he said. "I just did my thing, but when I went to Salt Lake City, you basically had to clean up your set because the bulk of your audience may not have been all Mormon, but they were probably Mormon at one time, so they didn't respond well to language. It was a good opportunity for me to really clean up my set and learn how to start working clean.
"Utah was great because it definitely taught me how to replace words and I just felt if you can perform in Salt Lake City, you can perform anywhere," Lewis said. “I did the same thing there where I built a following, won the Rocky Mountain Laugh-Off and ended up moving to Los Angeles to build some more work."
In addition to comedy, Lewis maintains a full-time job, while performing in comedy clubs and making TV appearances. He has appeared on Marlon Wayan's TBS show "Funniest Wins," the Starz Network's "StannDup," and Kevin Hart's "One Mic Stand.”"Sometimes it's very difficult to juggle everything because I'm still working while managing my personal things and going to these studios and shooting 12- to 16-hour days," he said. "It was an amazing experience but then I always migrate to comedy scenes wherever I'm at. I'm also a family man with three daughters. I've known my wife since I was 15 years old. My comedy revolves around that, my life as a father and my wife and my children.
"My dad is a black man, he raised me," he added. "My mother was not around, and you don't normally see that. To see a black man raise a half-black, half-white child, it's typically vise-versa. Usually it's the black man who's not there, and the mother raises the child so I come from very unusual circumstances. I was very much the youth with hardship — all those things that culminated into this spirit in me that just wants to make people laugh, I feel better when I'm able to do that. One thing my father did was make sure that I was OK — and all my comedy kind of stems from his life and my uncles, and the colorful people around me.
"I always feel a different energy and different appreciation for laughter when you've had some turmoil — I'm not flawless by any means," he said. "I have a hard time dealing with individuals disrespecting other people and myself and it took me to being this old to have the emotional intelligence to deal with it in a more mature way. I don't like people being taken advantage of, and I'm very respectful. It bothered me and I had to just brush it off. Just like anything, you grow up, but I will tell you, that comedy has taught me patience, and it's taught, when I do perform for three or four days, or whatever leading up to my next set, there's a calm in me because I'm filled with such good energy and endorphins it's definitely a chemical thing. I'm not a big drinker, I don't do drugs or anything like that but you definitely feel something from it."
Lewis also loves to give back by performing for American troops no matter where in the world they are, and he keeps his material clean for them, too.
"I think when you get people to laugh, especially when they're upset or down, it brings a good energy," he added. "Most audiences are like that — people have had a bad day and they go Friday or Saturday to laugh and have some beverages…'I was having a bad week and you put some things in perspective' … 'I thought I had some bad things going on, but you made me realize I need to just brush it off because there are people that are in worse situations.'
"I think my favorite thing is the ability to bring laughter to a stranger that doesn't know anything about you, to bring laughter to somebody that really needed it," he said. "I always make it a point to give people a good time. I think there's something great about reaching someone who thought they would never have interaction with me — because of the color of my skin — so it's nice to have the laughter separate that. They get to know me and they get to know a little bit about my life, giving them the opportunity to laugh and not to judge.
"At the end of the day, it's about making people laugh, touching people and getting that energy back, too."