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Tales Of The Emcee – An Interview With The Comedy Cellar’s Mark Cohen

Last updated: June 6, 2019 at 3:05 pm. Posted by in Las Vegas Shows, Rio Las Vegas. Comments Off on Tales Of The Emcee – An Interview With The Comedy Cellar’s Mark Cohen.

It was a different time when Mark Cohen started in stand-up comedy. Over coffee, the native East Coaster tells me of his early days, first in Maryland, then in New York City during the Comedy Boom of the 1980s. Cohen, the house emcee at The Comedy Cellar at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, recalls, “I was able to quit my job waiting tables within a few weeks. I had a guitar and a car. That’s all you needed back then. That was the joke. I used to say, ‘I’d send an 8 x 10 of my car.'”

I sat down with Cohen to discuss his thoughts on how The Comedy Cellar is doing in Las Vegas, Vegas as a comedy town, the importance of his role as an emcee and more.

Comedy Cellar’s Mark Cohen

The Comedy Cellar stage crew with Mark Cohen

Mark Cohen, far right, on stage with the crew at The Comedy Cellar. Photo courtesy of Mark Cohen.

You were a full-time comedian less than a year after you started performing?

Yeah. I think I made more money the first year I did stand-up than for years afterwards. I would go out constantly. It wasn’t great money, but it was constant.

Was The Comedy Cellar your home club in New York City?

Yes. But back then I worked all the clubs. I had the record for most sets in a night.

How many?

It’s been beaten since then by Dave Attell and Ray Romano, but it was nine. Three at The Comedy Cellar, three at The Boston, two around the corner and one at The Improv.

At the end of that night, could you rank those sets in order?

No. I repeat jokes anyway. Sometimes in the same set.


Comedy Cellar Mark Cohen is artsy

Mark Cohen is artsy. Photo courtesy of Mark Cohen.

How did you end up in Las Vegas?

I have a 16-year-old daughter here so I probably moved here about 18 years ago. I did a show called “The Rat Pack Is Back.” Then the show ended and I moved back to L.A. and did some acting. When this opportunity came up with The Comedy Cellar, I called Noam (Dworman, owner of The Comedy Cellar) and said, “This would be a good marriage.”

What do you think of Las Vegas as a comedy town right now?

I think The Cellar helped a lot. I think it’s a good comedy town. It’s a weird situation. I don’t know the local talent that much. I hear it’s a vibrant community. I think our show, I’m biased, but I think it’s the best comedy show in town because of the variety of it. We have four or five acts doing 15 – 20 minutes as opposed to someone doing 45 minutes. It makes a difference to the audience. People’s attention spans are so short.

Can you talk more about the showcase style of The Comedy Cellar?

I have trouble sitting and watching someone for 45 minutes even if I love them. I think 15 – 20 minutes is enough for people. I think people are ready. Then you have comedians in the back going, “I gotta follow this guy. He’s killing.” But once you’re on stage, if you’re good and the audience is focused, they’re going to forget about the guy before. They’re going to think about you anyway. You could talk about the same subject matter as the guy before you and if it’s good, it works.

Getting the crowd ready for Mark Cohen

The crowd is ready for Mark Cohen. Photo courtesy of Mark Cohen.

And what about your job? What makes the emcee so essential?

When I started off in New York, I don’t want it to sound obnoxious, the emcee was the best guy, because the comics weren’t as good. And that’s how you got good. I did seven nights a week, five to six hours emceeing. When I moved to L.A., I said, “I’ll emcee,” and I had people coming up to me telling me not to emcee in L.A. because they’ll put you in the emcee category. I said, “What’s wrong with that?” I was coming from a place where it was a good act. It’s still one of the most important parts of the show – holding the show together, moving it along. I think if the emcee is good and the last guy is good, the audiences don’t really know much else in between. With short attention spans, that’s what they remember.

Does your job change as the emcee in Las Vegas as opposed to other markets?

It’s weird here because with the emcee, we’ve got a lot of locals coming back. Sometimes people will come back two or three times a week. So that’s hard. It’s hard to come up with material. I just work the crowd mostly now and add a joke or two here or there. It seems to be enough to get the locals satisfied.

What’s the toughest thing about being the emcee?

It’s different in different places. I would normally say it’s going up first when the crowd is cold. But I don’t really find that here. I find I can get them pretty quickly. My problem is the acts are so good that when I go on in between, they’ve had enough of me, which is fine. I’m there for the show.

Comedy Cellar Mark Cohen doesn't want to hear it

Mark Cohen doesn’t want to hear it. Photo courtesy of Mark Cohen.

When you have a dead crowd, do you use any tricks to light them up?

The thing I notice I do is I tell them how good they are throughout the night. And they start to believe it. If they are timid at the beginning and I go, “You guys are a great crowd,” then by the third time they go, “We are a good crowd.” I don’t like comedians that blame the audience for not laughing. It happens. It’s a marriage of two people and sometimes it doesn’t work.

What do you like about the crowds at The Comedy Cellar as opposed to other venues?

People that come to The Cellar are coming to The Cellar. They’re comedy people. So, our audiences are going to be great.

Who are some of the biggest acts – both booked and pop-ins – who have hit the stage at The Cellar in Las Vegas?

Michelle Wolf, Steve Byrne, Dave Attell, Gad Elmaleh, Todd Barry, Ray Romano and Amy Schumer, among others.

Comedy Cellar Mark Cohen and Jackie Mason

Mark Cohen and Jackie Mason. Photo courtesy of Mark Cohen.

Do you have any goals you want to accomplish with the shows here going forward?

I don’t know. The guy I was renting my house from just sold it. I’m at a crossroads. The other thing is, I ask, ‘How can you have the same host for 10 or 15 years?’ People will get tired of it. The Cellar started with Bill Grundfest and Rick Crom and they did it for 15 or 20 years and that’s part of the success of it, too. It’s nice to have a steady job. My daughter is going to graduate high school soon. If I could squeeze another year out of it, I would stay if they are happy with me. It does seem to be successful here.

Find more information about all the best Las Vegas comedy shows in our Caesars Experience Vegas guide.

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About The Author

Jason is originally from the great state of New Jersey. That’s right – great! He’s lived in Las Vegas on and off for the past 20 years, which he also rates as top notch. As a pop culture fanatic, he loves concerts, great food, offbeat adventures and movies. He has written for too many publications to mention, has sold a few screenplays and is immersed in the creative world.

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