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October 20, 2014

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Sapphire Comedy Hour’s sleight-of-hand approach mixes style and shtick

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Gabe Ginsberg

Comedian and headliner Michael “Wheels” Parise during the Sapphire Comedy Hour at Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, Friday, July 12, 2013.

The Sapphire Comedy Hour

Duo pole act Sarafein and Charisma during the Sapphire Comedy Hour at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, Friday, July 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Host Sean Carlin during the Sapphire Comedy Hour at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, Friday, July 12, 2013.

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Performer Kalani Kokonuts during the Sapphire Comedy Hour at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, Friday, July 12, 2013.

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Comdedian Angie Krum during the Sapphire Comedy Hour at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, Friday, July 12, 2013.

As you settle into a seat in this bastion of adult frivolity, you first take note of a man operating a parrot.

He is at the side of the stage at Sapphire Comedy Hour, a Friday and Saturday night spectacle of jokes, magic and dancing of nearly undressed ladies. He wears glasses and operates a parrot puppet that looks a little like the famous Vlasic stork, actually. It isn’t clear why he is there or what purpose he is to serve other than to appear as a dopey, and slightly creepy, comic set piece.

Occasionally, one of the performers will refer to him, as if the audience might have forgotten he is standing just feet from the spotlight. They’ll tell a joke and shoot a glance to the man and the parrot, asking, “Am I right about this? You’ll back me up on this, right?” And the man holding the puppet will nod enthusiastically, as will the parrot.

It turns out this is the comedy ventriloquism team Oscar and Bernie. Oscar is the operator and Bernie the puppet, and suffice to say Terry Fator has nothing to worry about in these two odd birds. This is the most-gonged act in the history of “The Gong Show,” the multiple gongings certainly a comic undertaking by host Chuck Barris, and also were censored for lewd material on “The Tonight Show.”

Oscar and Bernie are not part of the lineup, at least formally, but whatever. Not everything quite makes sense at Sapphire Comedy Hour, yet somehow it does add up. This is a strip club not on the Strip but on Industrial Road, having taken over the space once occupied by the fitness center Sporting House, which closed in December 2001.

The club space is wide open and seems sky high, and for good reason: The showroom was once a trio of racquetball courts at Sporting House. What is confusing to anyone who hasn’t been to the comedy show is it is not actually staged in the club’s stripping enclave. It’s set off to the side, but it does share an entrance with the dance club. The vastness of the complex is inescapable, 70,000 feet just for the comedy showroom.

The central producer and director of this unique fusion of fun and flesh is Brett Feinstein, son of Sapphire Entertainment Managing Partner Peter Feinstein and the co-host of the “Hot Head Happy Hour” radio show on KLAV 1230-AM every Friday night. The co-producers are Doug Leferovich, better known as the magic custodian “Lefty” in Murray Sawshuck’s show at The Laugh Factory at Tropicana, and longtime comedy booker Philip Peredo of TickleMe Entertainment. Ticket packages, which include transportation to the show, start at $40.

The show gives equal stage complement to illusionists, comics and dancers. During media night this month, the headliner was Michael “Wheels” Parise, who has opened for Andrew Dice Clay for 25 years and is the co-host of Clay’s new podcast, “Rollin’ With Dice and Wheels.” The host, Sean Carlin, reminds vaguely of Craig Ferguson, and of a person who is happily drunk.

Angie Krum, a real find in this environment, is host of an open-mic showcase Tuesdays and Thursdays at Meatheads Bar on South Decatur Boulevard that celebrated its second anniversary in June. Touring club comic and comedy writer Steven Briggs (whose credits include “The Social Network”) is in a rotation of comics you might not have heard of but are as funny as any club dwellers in town.

Between comics, such illusionists as sleight-of-hand artist Chris Scandal Randall and Mon Dre (both of whom have performed at the magic Mecca of The Magic Castle in Los Angeles) perform a high level of traditional magic, and Leferovich also takes the stage on occasion. The burlesque star is a famous figure in the world of tease: Kalani Kokonuts, featured five times in Playboy and a member of the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

It’s a lot to process, certainly. Observing Kokonuts’ elegant feather dance in the same 15-minute span as Parisi’s chubby frame, and he jokes about such, is pretty jarring. What also is unanticipated is the scope of this production. It’s a big adventure in a room with a lot of size that also hosts the Men of Sapphire adult-male revue (women were lined up outside the entrance for that show) after the comedy.

Can it work? The Saturday night slot was just added last weekend. Some fans will not like having to walk into the strip club for comedy, which is understandable. The post-show VIP party on media night was held in the main dance club. There has been talk of a separate entrance to the showroom, but at the moment the Sapphire hierarchy is busy investing in its splashy new pool. Building doors to the comedy club is not a particularly high priority.

But what is being uncorked each week at Sapphire is, at the very least, something different. There is a lot of hard work, planning, vision and talent evident. And, there also are the comedy stylings of Oscar and Bernie. If you don’t dig the performers onstage, you can just watch the puppet show.

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

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