Classic rock bands that still tour regularly aren’t expected to constantly come up with fresh material to perform. On the contrary, any new music is usually greeted with disdain or at best indifference by most audiences. You wouldn’t go see the Rolling Stones, for instance, and not expect to hear “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
Ray Romano and Kevin James aren’t exactly the Rolling Stones of stand-up comedy; they’re more like Styx and REO Speedwagon: reliable, safe performers who appeal to older, middle-of-the-road fans unaccustomed to seeing a whole lot of live performances. Romano and James’s co-headlining show at The Mirage in Las Vegas was like many of the classic-rock package tours that come through town in that it delivered familiar material in a professional and generally entertaining way and left the sizeable audience perfectly satisfied, if far from surprised or challenged. Like a lot of aging rockers, Romano and James seem to be coasting on past successes and no longer putting the same kind of energy into their performances as they did when they were younger and hungrier.
Each comedian performed about half an hour, followed by a 15-minute collaborative segment that included an audience Q&A. That looser, more improvisational segment was the best part of the show, and it highlighted the genuine camaraderie that inspired the two to perform together. Romano did his take on a Kevin James bit, and James broke out his (pretty accurate) Ray Romano impression, which culminated in the duo performing one of Romano’s bits simultaneously in Romano’s voice and in perfect sync. A unique moment like that, which could only come from the two working together, was the kind of thing lacking from the rest of the show.
Separately, Romano and James essentially performed their greatest hits, whether they were completely verbatim jokes that have been around for years or just familiar pet themes. The King of Queens star James opened his set with a joke about the Wendy’s Baconator (introduced in 2007) and proceeded to do plenty of material about his weight, which is unfortunately still a relevant topic. Both comedians touched on standard topics of aging, marriage and children, and neither offered any fresh insights. James’s most consistently funny technique was to take fairly simple jokes and stretch them out far longer than would be expected, moving them from mildly funny to mildly annoying to surreally entertaining.
His routine about the annoyance of posing for fan photos could have come off as narcissistic celebrity entitlement, but he took the smallest moments and expanded on them in weird riffs, doing a real-time impression of the interminable wait, frozen in an artificial smile, while a fan figures out how to properly use a camera. James stood onstage with his awkward smile long enough to get the audience to laugh, then he stood there a little longer, then there was some nervous laughter, and then he held it even longer so that the crowd was nearly as uncomfortable as he had certainly been when dealing with the situation in real life.
Romano’s style was a little more conventional, and his subject matter was predictable for anyone who watched his long-running Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom or has seen him do stand-up at any point over the past two decades. Romano joked about raising his kids, even though they’re all teenagers or adults at this point. “You love your kids, but it’s nice sometimes when they’re unconscious,” is a great joke, but it’s doubtful that Romano has put his kids down for naps in a good 10 years.
Even Romano’s custom-tailored Vegas material was pretty stale, with jokes about such timely subjects as cigarette girls, The Luxor (opened in 1993) and legalized prostitution (which, for the record, does not exist in Las Vegas). James did some stock Vegas jokes, too, but Romano spent more time on them, to less effect. His jokes about getting older were disappointingly weak, given that he’s just come off two seasons of the underrated and surprisingly affecting TNT dramedy Men of a Certain Age, which featured a smart and funny take on male aging. Romano’s affable delivery helped the lackluster material come across well, but it only carried things so far.
Both comedians worked better when forced to think on their feet while responding to the sometimes bizarre (“Are you a bottom or a top?”) audience questions in the final segment. James fumbled a bit of the audience interaction in his solo set, although he hit unexpected pay dirt asking an innocuous question about who in the audience had children, finding a man who had just learned he had a 9-year-old son. Barely keeping it together, James asked, “Am I prying?” but couldn’t help pressing the guy for details. The rest of the show could have used more of that off-kilter energy, rather than the competent but uninspired running through the motions.