Rockin’ Jokes

The “1st Friday Comedy Series” returns to the Avi Resort & Casino Friday, April 5, for another evening of non-stop laughs to start the weekend off right. Three comedians take the stage in the Grand Ballroom and this trip includes Howard Berger serving as emcee, with Kristi McHugh as the featured act and Pete George as the headliner.
The talent comes from comedy organization, 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 saw 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 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. If a couple people don’t like it, we’re sorry, but we try to keep the percentages high and also not hurt anybody’s feelings.
“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.
Kern talked a little about the show’s emcee and feature.
“The feature is Kristi McHugh,” he said. “This Midwestern girl is hysterical, yet clean and has taken her from the Laff Shack in Okoboji, Iowa, to the stages of Hollywood, where she has shared the bill with George Wallace, David Brenner, Drew Carey and Arsenio Hall.
“Emcee Howard Berger is a comedian and comedy writer who has performed all across North America in clubs and corporate events in his home town of Los Angeles and places such as Reno, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. His most recent job was entertaining at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas,” Kern added.

More about Pete George…
Pete George has performed in Laughlin at various venues over the years and his combination of comedy and music has made him a local favorite. Yet for a guy who bills himself as the “Rock Star of Comedy,” George doesn’t exactly look the part when he walks out on stage. Rather than sporting low-cut, painted-on leather pants or piercings in places you didn’t know you could pierce, the unassuming guy with two first names looks more like a book nerd than a rocker dude. OK, maybe he looks a little like Buddy Holly with his black-framed glasses, but rocker dude isn’t the first image that comes to mind.
But then he starts telling the audience about his life in school being labeled a kid with a learning disability (which he didn’t really have) and adding in snippets of songs and parodies with his electric guitar, and this roller-coaster ride of a show takes off from there.
He’s definitely the example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover. His show is clever, original — and most of all, funny.
In addition to appearances at all the name comedy clubs across the country, George has appeared in numerous television and movie roles, his most significant, a role in the seven-time Oscar-nominated film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Majestic.”
“I started in the 1980s in Cleveland playing in a band,” George told the Laughlin entertainer. “At the same time, I always loved comedy but was too terrified to go up on stage. Finally, I went on stage at the Cleveland Comedy Club. They had 10 comics at this open mic — new people and working professionals.
“You did 10 minutes and if you won, you got $50. The very first time I went up there, I won the competition,” he said. “I was 25 at the time so my incentive was winning the $50. You could only win the competition once a month, so I waited a month and I won again. I waited another month and won again. I was only interested in getting the prize money so I didn’t want to do the freebie shows for the club. They asked me not to come back.
“I started getting paid work right after that. I was lucky. A comic-magician needed an opening act so the next two to three years, I was working all over the place, sometimes for six weeks straight. The Cleveland comics were jealous,” he added.
Discovering that being funny was his calling, George ventured into comedy competitions and a quick string of wins set off a 20-year career that has included over 7,000 shows at a multitude of venues and corporate events, touring the world, headlining comedy clubs, cruise ships, colleges, military shows and special events.
“One time I even opened for the Australian male stripper show Thunder From Down Under,” George recalled. “I thought it was a seminar on irritable bowel syndrome.”
His comedy is one part observational, one part biographical, all delivered with a large helping of music.
“It’s like a house party with music put to my life experiences,” he said. “In high school I was in a learning disability program for three years even though I didn’t have a learning disability, so some of my show is based around that.”
Some of his show centers around his not-so-perfect family life
“‘The Brady Bunch’ was B.S.,” he said. “Of course, sometimes there’s material on the ex-wife. I don’t bash, but I tell people I’d show them a picture of her but she’s so evil she doesn’t show up in photos.
“The second part is music — a history of rock and roll with bits and pieces of famous guitar facts. Some guys who incorporate music know three chords. I’m an accomplished musician. It’s in my genes. My father played the accordion professionally. He got into West Point because he could play the accordion. Talk about your weapons of mass destruction.
“While the music is a draw, it’s always been comedy before the music,” he added.
George’s favorite part of being a comic is immediate response from his audience members.
“When I walk into a club and after a few minutes there’s that communication where you and the audience become one. That connection with the audience is a magical moment. It’s more like I’m having a conversation with them than doing a stand-up routine. I still love experiencing those moments.
“I hold the record at Catch A Rising Star in Reno for the most standing ovations — 19. It comes in waves. Sometimes I’ll get a whole bunch of them and then it stops, and I’m doing the same show. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The down side of the business is the business side.
“I would say my least favorite part is the politics of it,” he said. “For example when you perform at clubs and set records for standing ovations and then can’t get booked there anymore, with no reason given, that’s a frustrating thing. Or when you’re working your butt off and a ‘reality’ star with no talent gets booked in Vegas. That’s frustrating, too. Comedy Central will give some of these guys specials and I’m shocked and wondering how that happened. Some of them have opened for me and nobody was laughing.”
He said the climate for emerging comedians is pretty good.
“I think the comedy scene now — it’s better than it ever has been,” he said. “Back when I started there were really good comics out there and really bad comics. Now it’s a combination of everybody working and that doesn’t happen that often.”
So how does George handle hecklers?
“I’ve had quite a bit of training in life coaching,” he said. “I’ll coach a heckler from the stage. When I coach, they don’t know what to do because I’m calling them on their crap. I frustrate them. I’m not attacking them but coaching them, and when it works, it works great.
“I have a heckler story — a guy in Pennsylvania started yelling at me, but it wasn’t working. He was so frustrated that he ran out of the theater and left his car keys where he was sitting. He broke the window of his own car to get in and the manager of this place made him pick up every piece of glass. What’s funny is that his wife and his friend stayed, watched the show and loved it. They ended up buying one of my CDs.”
George continues to be in demand in many facets of the entertainment business.
“I’ve done USO tours and can call my big acting credit, ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’” he said. “I’ve done commercials and other acting for TV. I have a CD called ‘Comedy You Can Dance To,’ and I’m always working on new material. I have some stuff on YouTube, and people can check out my website at TheRockstarOfComedy.com.”


PETE GEORGE

Grand Ballroom at the Avi

Friday, April 5 (8 p.m., doors open 7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info