Mr. Clean Does Vegas

Michael Jr.
Michael Jr.

Back in the day, before iTunes began delivering one song at a time, you always scored a little bonus with the hit you were actually paying for. With old 45s, you got the “B” side, the song you’d never heard of. And every once in a while, that other song was better than the featured one. Occasionally, the “B” tune was an unexpected wonder.

“B” sides have gone the way of rotary dial phones, but the phenomenon lives on in Vegas comedy shows. Most headliners employ undiscovered comics to “open” for them, to warm up the audience before the household name takes the mike. Brad Garrett, whose show I caught recently at the Mirage, is one such star. Best known for his stint on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Garrett packs in audiences whenever he comes to town.

Opening for Garrett was a comedian who goes by the name of Michael Jr. I’d never heard of him, but that was no surprise. He was the “B” side, the unknown, the guy we had to listen to if we wanted to hear the good stuff. OK, get it over with, I thought. Hurry up.

But then he started talking. He hadn’t even reached his first punch line when I realized I was listening to the kind of stand-up I like best: intelligent, well-crafted, almost literary. Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against blue language in a comedy routine. It’s just that, far too often, comics try to substitute shock value for genuine humor. My litmus test is, if you take out all the F-words, ethnic slurs and private parts, is it still funny?

In Michael Jr.’s case, there was nothing to take out. Yes, as I kept listening and laughing, I realized I had happened on one of those charming rarities in stand-up land, a funny clean guy. His jokes ranged in topic from how women figure out a guy’s income to what happens when a black man goes jogging in Beverly Hills. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say Michael Jr.’s material is a little like Rita Rudner’s. Like Rita, Michael Jr. makes you laugh in the moment, and he also leaves you with a little food for thought. It’s the kind of humor you can enjoy at night and still respect yourself in the morning. I wanted more, but all too soon, Brad Garrett took over.

Garrett turned out to be that other kind of comic. Sure, he had great timing, a funny deep voice, and he did a good Herman Munster imitation, but the other 98 percent of his routine was F-words, ethnic slurs and private parts. There’s a good chance the targets he chose in the audience loved being called words that could start riots, and I’m sure he’ll continue to pack theaters with shocking revelations about his manhood. Just don’t look for me among the adoring hordes.

When I got home, I did some online research and discovered that Michael Jr. is an even rarer bird than I had thought. Along with gigs on the Strip, he performs in churches. His material has to be clean enough for Bible thumpers and funny enough for lounge lizards. That’s a challenge right up there with walking on water, but somehow, this guy pulls it off.

You can get a taste of Michael Jr.’s comedy through online videos, and his Web site has a calendar of his appearances, many of them at churches around the country. I think it’s only a matter of time until his name appears back here in Vegas—in lights of its own. Michael Jr. may be the “B” side for now, but it’s time to turn that record over.