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From the Las Vegas Sun:

Friday, July 15, 2005

Muller slowly caved into his comedy calling

By Lisa Ferguson

The dining commons at UNLV don't usually rate as a hotbed of comedic talent. Nevertheless, it's precisely where Brandon Muller found his funny future.

As a student in 1994, Muller took part in a talent show for the university's dormitory residents -- his first stand-up performance.

"It went pretty well, except ... I didn't really know what I was doing," Muller recalled recently from his northwest valley home. He'd penned "like four pages" of rambling narrative to perform and, "Rather than doing the smart thing and editing it down, I did it all.

"Everyone else was up there doing like a song or a little skit -- three minutes or something. I was up there for like 20 minutes and people were like, 'Get down.' "

While some audience members "were telling me to stop," others "were laughing. But everyone said it went too long, so I didn't win."

The defeat didn't entirely deter Muller from pursuing a comedy career -- after all, he's performing Saturday in "Laughs at The Beach" at The Beach nightclub -- though it was enough to keep him out of the stand-up spotlight for the better part of a decade.

After graduating from UNLV in 1995 with a communications degree, Muller returned briefly to his hometown of Hesperia, Calif., but moved back to Las Vegas in '97 to play drums in a rock band that he and a buddy had formed.

The Metal Janitors were so named because "we played metal and, at the time at UNLV, we worked cleaning dorms," he explains. "We tried to write some serious songs, but we had a hard time keeping our sense of humor out of it."

Despite a couple of gigs at the now-defunct Cafe Roma, the band "never really made it out of the garage."

The following year, Muller began performing with the first of many local improv troupes.

"I didn't really know much" about improvisation, he contends, "but I thought it would be a good chance to meet people and to work on making stuff up on the spot."

He spent two years studying at the local outlet of the famed Second City Training Center, learning about forms of improv and how to work within a group. Since 2003, Muller has been a member of a troupe called Mandatory Friends, which takes the stage on Tuesday nights at Bourbon Street casino.

"I enjoy working with an ensemble and creating something with a scene partner that neither of you could have guessed from the opening," he says. "You're just building this scene that you don't know where it's going. You can't really script it."

That's not the case, however, with stand-up comedy, which the 31-year-old Muller resumed performing four years ago. These days, he takes local stages several times each week at Sandy Hackett's Comedy Club at Greek Isles; Boomers Humors on Sirius Avenue; and The Beach, among others.

With improv, he says, "I love the fact that when it's show time, I don't have to prepare anything. I go in and I don't know what I'm gonna do. I'm completely different with stand-up. I pretty much script everything."

Except, that is, for his paychecks: The fledgling comic says he has yet to earn a single stipend for his stand-up work. Instead, his day job as a valet attendant at Bellagio covers the bills ("It's more than you should get paid for parking a car," he jokes).

A one-time aspiring print journalist, Muller says he enjoys the writing process involved with stand-up comedy -- "Constantly working on a joke until I get the punch line just right, and then, when you deliver it to the audience and they validate it, that's great."

For his act, he uses his passion for creative writing to devise quips covering topics that range from politics to religion, and classic cars to roller coasters.

"I know every comedian twists the truth a little," he says. "I don't know if I'm different, but it seems like I really take things into Made-Up Land."

In college, "I liked the creative-writing classes where I'm writing about dogs on Mars and stuff like that, so I bring a lot of that into my stand-up. I've even had other comedians talk about some of my stuff like, 'That's not even realistic, Brandon. That could never happen.' "

Makes sense coming from a guy who also pens a humor column for Skeptic magazine, a quarterly publication that covers "paranormal, psuedo-science stuff" such as Bigfoot sightings and Loch Ness monster tales. "Interest-wise, it fascinates me," he says, "but I don't believe in any of it."

Maybe that's because he's seen some pretty amazing stuff firsthand: Muller is a caving enthusiast who has traversed underground caverns throughout the western United States.

He is a member of Southern Nevada Grotto, a group that works to preserve and conserve area caves, which recently has been surveying the Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park in east-central Nevada. "I've been up there a couple of times helping with that."

Muller adds that there are also plenty of impressive caves to explore in Southern Nevada. "Millions of years ago this desert was a lake. It's so weird to be out in the Red Rock area and go into a cave and see these formations," he explains.

"There's something about crawling around. Ever since I was a kid I've loved that, and since I'm no longer allowed to crawl in McDonald's Playlands, this is how I fulfill the urge now as an adult."