By E.C. Gladstone
With audiences from around the country and even the world, Las Vegas hotels have always been a great home for comics, who can play here more regularly than perhaps anywhere else in the world. A recent set by John Stewart at the Mirage reminded us just how great stand-up comedy can be, making you see everything and everyone around you in a different light, smiling at the absurdities of life, and even laughing a bit at ourselves. If you’re planning a Las Vegas vacation, or just looking for a good laugh, here’s a roundup of current and upcoming shows.
David Spade, Venetian
You know him from Saturday Night Live, Just Shoot Me, or movies like Tommy Boy and Joe Dirt, but returning to his stand-up roots, a (slightly) more maturing Spade riffs casually about relationships, growing older, Vegas absurdities and (of course) Hollywood. Good stuff.
Jay Leno, Mirage
After the huge Tonight Show era, it’s hard to remember that Leno was first one of our most consistent — and often edgy-stand up comedians. Leno’s topics are typical — Tiger Woods, politicians, terrorists, airlines, fancy pet food, health care, obesity, religion, the economy — but his delivery and viewpoints are both so sharp that he’s nearly as on point as John Stewart. His material no doubt ranges from jokes he just thought up on the way into town to ones he’s probably been playing for decades. “Isn’t it obvious God has a major problem with Malibu?” he says. And on our supersized fast food: “When did meat become a condiment for other meat?” Consummate pro. (Upcoming dates: April 2-3, April 23-24, May 14-15)
Terry Fator, Mirage
With a slick talk show-style stage, hip DJ and tight band, the America’s Got Talent winner is as on-the-money as possible. In this Las Vegas hotel show, Fator has added new puppet characters (like a Cougar and a Beatle) to his already solid cast, and more stunning musical voices like James Blunt and Brooks & Dunn. Approaching conservatives and liberals, old and young alike, Fator simply represents Vegas entertainment at its best. Who ever thought ventriloquism would be hot?
Don Rickles, Orleans
There’s nothing quite like seeing a “legend” who’s still got it, and Rickles — one of the last standing “golden era” Vegas names — qualifies in both respects. Though a little slower physically, the original audience-insult comic still zings in one-liners about his wife, current events, Jewishness, and whatever else crosses his mind. Comedians come in all shapes and sizes, but not a one working today hasn’t been influenced by Mr. Warmth.
Gordie Brown, Golden Nugget
Considering his many talents — singer, dancer, impressionist — it seems almost shortsighted to put Brown in a category with comedians. But humor is his main objective, and Gordie delivers laughs without fail. Imagine Robin Williams or Jim Carrey taking Mad Magazine and turning it into a R-rated musical. It can start with a Bruce Springsteen satire followed by dead-on imitations of Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Forrest Gump, Paul Simon, Randy Travis, Elton John, Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Billy Ray Cyrus, Barney the dinosaur … and that’s just in the first ten minutes!
Carrot Top, Luxor
“I’m only proud of about half the stuff you’ll see in the show,” CT warns us after his first relentless barrage of one-liners and prop gags about Vegas, current events, celebrities, clichés, and himself. With seven trunks of stuff on stage, Carrot Top is never without a joke, but is also willing to make fun of himself when something falls flat. Once mistaken for a Carrot Top impersonator, he himself says “Isn’t one enough?” The booze he serves up midway isn’t the only thing that kills brain cells — but you’ll laugh in spite of yourself.
Vinnie Favorito, Flamingo
Bastard child of Don Rickles and Dean Martin, Boston tough guy Favorito is the perfect Las Vegas hotel lounge comic, making sure he picks on everyone equally, and talking as dirty as he dares (especially when married couples and their parents are present). He makes fun of easily half the entire audience, and is seemingly never at a loss for a put down, with one exception: “Even I don’t mess with postal workers.”
George Wallace, Flamingo
“I don’t have an act,” Wallace tells his jovial cross-generational, multi-racial audience halfway through his performance. That may not be entirely true, but what Wallace does have is a big sense of humor about all things Vegas, politics and everyday life. He likes to list “People who need they a** kicked” and get to know the audience (sometimes those are one in the same), but he does have his one-liners: “My school was so small, we had driver’s ed and sex ed in the same car.”
Rita Rudner, Harrah’s
The lone resident comedienne on the Strip, Rudner holds her own in her classic deadpan style, warming the audience with one-liners about shopping, motherhood, marriage, politics and of course, Vegas. She’s never been excessively biting, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t entertaining — and one of the few who can make you laugh while staying “clean.”
Andrew “Dice” Clay, Las Vegas Hilton
Married or not, Clay has certainly not mellowed with age, warning his Las Vegas hotel audience about to be attacked that “there are people who leave my show feeling worse than when they came in — it’s what I have to do to please everybody else.” Throwing in some penchant impersonations, Clay combines fearless racial and explicit sexual humor, often warning the crowd “Don’t laugh at that, because that would make you as sick as me.”
Frank Caliendo, Monte Carlo
You know Caliendo from MAD TV and Fox’s NFL Sundays — he’s the guy who does uncanny impersonations of presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Charles Barkley, John Madden, Yoda and more: when he mixes them into bizarre scenarios he’s at his best, though critics have tweaked him for lacking much new material.
Louie Anderson, Excalibur
Relatively bargain-priced, Family Feud and Life With Louie vet Anderson tells warm jokes about growing up, pokes fun at himself (aging, eating) and Vegas, improv’s with the audience … and does it all clean.
Todd Paul/ Dirty Joke Show, Hooters
Working the illustrious Hooters “Night Owl” showroom when Men of X or Purple Reign don’t have it, Todd Paul is a bit of a one-man variety show, mixing juggling, magic and even a little music with his jokes. Later in the evening, Paul has introduced a new (old) concept, the Dirty Jokes show: using the premise of a post-show backstage alley get together with fellow comics (Geechy Guy and Mickey Joseph) to tell each other the filthiest jokes they can conjur. It’s as raw and real as Vegas gets — at least until former “Night Owl” resident Bobby Slayton comes back.
Other upcoming headliner shows include: Ray Romano and Kevin James April 16-17 (Mirage), Joan Rivers April 8-10 and April 15-17 (Venetian), Ron White April 9-10 (Mirage), Steven Wright April 10-11 (Orleans), Dennis Miller April 16-18 (Orleans), Jerry Seinfeld April 30 – May1 (Caesars), Lewis Black May (Mirage), Tracey Morgan June 5 (Hard Rock Hotel)
More Vegas comedy:
Veteran entertainment and travel writer E. C. Gladstone writes regularly on top Strip entertainers, restauranteurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for many local and national publications and Web sites. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.