Playing Las Vegas
Every act wants to play Vegas in their career. I was so lucky to work the strip before Cirque and the big magic shows pummeled the booking market for any other variety act that made the town famous.
But in the late 80’s and 90’s there were still big revue shows like “Enter the Night” or “Jubilee!” – the show your grandparents saw on their honeymoon. There were comedy headliners at Caesars Palace and the most fantastic camp shows like “Boylesque” and “Bottoms Up!” up and down the marquees.
Unknown names were huge stars in the middle of the desert. Bobby Berosini and his orangutans, The Great Tomsoni and Company or in recent years someone like the late Danny Gans.
In Danny’s case, The Rio Hotel & Casino needed a performer to compete with the neighboring Siegfried & Roy show amongst others. They plucked the unknown, pretty average impressionist and repackaged him, launching a huge PR campaign and created a star in this microcosm called Las Vegas.
It was 1997 and I was working in Biloxi, Mississippi at the Grand Theatre, a brand new 2000 seat facility when the power went out mid-show. Always great during emergencies, I went out to fill time until the crew could reboot the system.
I grabbed a candle from one of the tables, felt my way back to the stage, yelled out to the audience, “Can everyone see the floating candle?” Then proceeded to do 8 minutes in the dark.
It went great. Well enough that Dick Feeney, producer of “Viva Las Vegas” at the Stratosphere and “The Flying Elvi” came back stage and said, “If you can do that well off-the-cuff and in the dark, you should come do my show in the light.”
“Viva Las Vegas” was a long running, little afternoon show that every local Las Vegas act wanted to do. Not because the show was that good or the money was big but it was a regular gig that allowed you to stay in town and also book a night gig too.
If I recall the timeline correctly, I was simultaneously working on getting into “Folies Bergere” at the Tropicana. I got a call on a Thursday offering me the job. Friday I was told they were giving the job to the aforementioned Bobby Berosini.
Berosini was a huge comedy act in the 1970’s and 80’s with trained orangutans until PETA got a hold of security video of him beating the animals. He was run out of town and ended up years later in Branson, MO. doing a show with like, one monkey.
As luck would have it, PETA got wind of his possible return and threatened to picket the hotel if he was hired. Thus, I was offered 8 shows a week at $3500.00. Which for a young act was amazing plus the “Viva” show by day.
When I first played Las Vegas, I was young and I lived the role. It was like playing dress-up with flashy clothes, a ring or two and I wore sunglasses in doors. Now I look at those guys and think … what a douchebag. But SO fun at the time.
Over the next 15 years I played Las Vegas many times at clubs like The Riviera or Comedy Stop, opening for star names like Tom Jones or as a comedy headliner in the big production shows like “Skin Tight” or “Splash”. Performing there was a lot of fun. Living there is something else … little culture, lots of crime, irregular boobs and regular inbreeding.
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