Dateline South Lake Tahoe: Laughter is the Action at the Improv

Amidst the beauty and outdoor activities of this laid-back town, one finds towering casinos clustered at the California/Nevada state line.  It's here that locals and visitors alike converge for gaming and entertainment when the sun goes down.  The crowd that loves to laugh gravitates to The Improv at Harvey's, where first-rate stand-up comedians deliver 90 minutes of pure entertainment.

The show is hosted and "warmed up" by 10-year veteran emcee Howie Nave, a Bay Area guy who now calls Tahoe his home.  Nave delivers hilarious stories about his stint entertaining US troops in Iraq, in an alcohol-deprived, 126-degree location where his military audience "packed guns, and big ones too. Talk about performance pressure!"  His fantasy about opening a Muslim bar there, complete with "wet veil night" where patrons shout "C'mon Baby, show us your face!" cracked up the crowd.  Nave's routine is local, high energy, and very real.  He describes his stint as a toll-taker on the Bay Bridge, when drunks placed cheeseburger orders and Nave would tell them to pick up their order at the end of the bridge.  The audience roared with laughter when Nave acknowledges Tahoe's effective solution to the homeless problem..."It's called SNOW!" 

Nave's performance is a knock-out with the crowd, and the fun continues as he introduces two guest comedians. This week's opener is Doug Sparks, a comedy show headliner, film actor, and mimic whose musical impressions and substitute lyrics are spot-on.  Nave calls Sparks "A cross between Eddie Murphy and Johnny Mathis."  Sparks's versatile voice has been part of a "Rat Pack" tribute show in Vegas where Sparks channeled Sammy Davis, Jr.  Sparks, a Vegas resident, includes a hilarious monologue as part of his act.  He bemoans the misery of aging, the heat in Vegas, small dogs, and arguing with females.  Sparks wins over his audience with a quick wit and scathing social observations, including good-natured barbs occasionally shot into the appreciative and laughing crowd.    

The coveted headliner spot this week goes to Tom Cotter, a multi-award winner and Comedy Central regular with so much funny material that many audience members come back for a second show.  Cotter points to humor in our traditions:  "Why do guys ask for a gal's hand in marriage?"  Cotter asks.  "Guys know we already have our own hands.  And it's not her hand that we want anyway."  His take on marriage "I got married 'cause I got tired of finishing my own sentences" and family "We're childproofing our house, but they keep getting in anyway" is priceless. 

Cotter also engages a rapid-fire comedy style known as misdirection, where statements are turned on their heads by the addition of an unexpected follow-up word.  This witty and incisive method requires perfect timing, something Cotter has in abundance.  He takes the audience on a wild ride through airport security, Irish partying, campus dudes, and the Amish visiting Circuit City.  He brings his childhood as the youngest of six children to the stage, noting that he grew up with Saturday morning water balloon fights in the neighborhood.  Of course, Cotter admits that the only way he could win was by freezing his water balloons Friday night.  

Show host Nave confides "I've been trying to get this guy up here for 10 years."  Kudos go to Nave for working so diligently to get Cotter, a superbly gifted comic, to the Harvey's stage...definitely worth the wait.  

The Improv features various comedians at Harvey's Lake Tahoe Resort Wednesday through Sunday, with shows at 9 PM and Saturday at 8 and 10 PM.  Tickets around $30 at (775) 586-6266.