The Kings of Las Vegas Comedy
Who’s the king of Las Vegas comedy?
Right now, I’d split my vote three ways:
Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club (MGM Grand) — Brad Garrett is a comedy genius. Other than perhaps Robin Williams when he was at his creative best about twenty years ago, I’ve never seen anyone quite as good who performs what’s called “extemporaneous” comedy. Garrett hears or sees something and rolls with it. There’s no way to shut him off. He’ll take an idea, and 15 minutes later, your sides are splitting from laughing so hard. Most impressive, is that all this is completely unscripted and unrehearsed.
I first saw Garrett’s “act” up close when he emceed an annual charity event which held at the World Series of Poker. Each year, the tournament drew about 100 high rollers, along with hundreds more who were watching along the rail, most of whom were completely unknown to Garrett. These charity events also attracted some huge mega-stars, including Matt Damon, Adam Sandler, Cedric the Entertainer, and many others.
My role on these occasions was to tail along behind Garrett, who went around the room with a live microphone. He played host for a few hours and went non-stop. I’d hand him an index card with the player’s name and perhaps a short bio (for a major donor). For instance, a businessman from Ohio would be playing in the tournament, Garrett would learn his name from the index card, and then just take off on the poor victim. He also went off on all the poker pros he recognized.
Well, it turned into a total circus. He was too good. Some players couldn’t even play their hands they were laughing so hard.
Even in the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event Championship, which Garrett played just about every year since the poker boom started, he’s almost a terrifying presence to have at your table. While he always respects the game and never gets out of line during play, the down time between hands often becomes an extended comedy act. I’ve never seen anyone go on for hours and still be funny.
That same ability to think quickly on his feet serves him well at his nightly comedy club, currently based the MGM Grand. Garrett has moved around town a few times over the years. He was previously booked at the Tropicana. On most nights, Garrett comes out and performs about 20 minutes of (unrehearsed) comedy, and then introduces a couple of comedians who follow. Trouble is, the guest acts are never as good as the host. Following Garrett on stage is a hopeless challenge.
My only criticism of Garrett playing the host role for others is that I wish he’d simply do a full 90 minute show alone. He should be the house performer, as other major comedians have done over the years in Las Vegas long history of headliner entertainment (Red Foxx, Rodney Dangerfield, Rita Rudner, Jerry Seinfeld, etc.). Sampling only twenty minutes or so of Garrett is like ordering an appetizer. You long for the main course.
I’ve seen Garrett perform multiple times. Often very vulgar and always politically incorrect, he gets away with things no other comedian could say (Michael Richards career was nearly ruined a few years ago for some of the same things in Garrett’s act). Racy, adult-themed humor which is the best of that genre since Richard Schimmel’s passing a few years ago.
FAVORITE GARRETT MOMENT: Garrett was playing in the 2009 WSOP Main Event. A floorman named Nick Gullo walked by his table. Gullo is a perfectly manicured man about about 60, who is smallish in stature. Garrett, who is quite tall and bigger than one expects, saw Gullo and grabbed him off his feet. As Gullo stood motionless, Garrett practically picked him up off the floor while launching into an Oscar-like acceptance speech. “I’d like to thank the members of the academy for this award, etc.” The look on Gullo’s face as he was being held in Garrett’s arms like the Oscar statue, was priceless.
Carrot Top (Luxor) — Carrot Top looks and acts like a clown, which is misleading. He’s extraordinarily versatile, performing a stage act that’s all over the map and covers just about anything imaginable.
Carrot Top is currently the house performer at the Luxor, where’s he’s been headlining for years. He’s best known for using “props,” which are entirely sight-based gags designed to make us think and laugh. During his solo act, he fires off far more hits than misses. Even the pranks that don’t go over as well, are discarded within mere seconds, followed in rapid-fire succession by gags that go non-stop for an hour and a half.
He also performs in one of the most unusual settings I’ve seen for any stage performer. Carrot Top’s venue reminds me of college classroom you might see in medical school, with its thin rows and steep, stadium-like seating. Whether by design or not, this is a brilliant accompaniment since all of Carrot Top’s act is visually-based. So, it’s important not only to be able to see everything, but to be as close to the performer as possible. In this venue, you’re right on top of everything the star does on stage.
Carrot Top’s shtick is marvelous. He makes fun of himself, and just about everyone else you can think of — male and female. He blisters celebrities. The stage is packed with storage trunks filled with props, which gradually come out one by one as the night goes along. Most remarkable, he doesn’t seem to make it through quite all the props, some of which stay behind inside the trunks. It certainly makes wonder. You want to come back and catch the show again, and see some of the things you were missing.
During the show, Carrot Top does impressions. He sings. He dances. He’s all over the place. There’s not a slow moment in the entire act.
This is a fabulous show, which surprisingly merits a PG rating. While not exactly for kids, the act never goes so far that you couldn’t take a boorish relative along. My guess is, even your parents would be laughing.
FAVORITE CARROT TOP MOMENT: So many gags to chose from. But among his best is a sight-gag where he’s desperately trying to sleep in a hotel room. I won’t reveal much here, but anyone who travels much will become completely absorbed in his hilarious routine about staying in hotels where nothing is quite like home.
Sinbad (The Orleans) — Sinbad frequently plays in Las Vegas. He’s usually booked in the showroom at The Orleans, one of the best venues in Las Vegas for any show (easy in and out access, comfortable seats, affordable, easy to get tickets).
I’ve watched Sinbad appear in movies and on television for more than 20 years. However, until this past Saturday night, I have never seen him perform live stand-up comedy.
Sinbad is about as simple a performer as it gets. No frills at all. He comes out on the stage and just talks for 90 uninterrupted minutes. About half of his show comes from interacting with members of the audience. I usually find these antics dull and contrived, since most of the people who speak out at comedy shows are either drunk or stupid. But Sinbad is somehow makes this part of the act far more conversational (“So, let me ask all the ladies — what bothers you most about your man?”).
Sinbad also benefits from a quality lacking in many comedians. He’s instantly likable. He smiles and laughs along with everyone else, as though he’s enjoying the show just as much as the rest of us.
Frankly, I knew Sinbad would be entertaining. What set him beyond expectations were two things. First, he puts on a clean show. There’s no profanity (at least the night I was in attendance). It’s certainly possible to be funny without resorting to raunchy humor. It’s just more challenging, especially for modern stand-up comedians. And this made me appreciate Sinbad all the more. He could have tossed up a few F-bombs for us to feast on, good for a cheap laugh. But he seemed more comfortable with taking a lighter approach to his subjects. I think this served him well.
Second is that Sinbad interweaves a lot of racial humor into his act, which never seems to be offensive. Another art form, in this day and age of political correctness. His facial inflections and body movements to go along with the gags are marvelous. Sinbad doesn’t discriminate — he stereotypes us all (black and white) without ever pissing anyone off.
Excellent clean show, which gives you your money’s worth. Also, presumably a very different show each time he performs.
FAVORITE SINBAD MOMENT: Sinbad defends the men in the audience who watch too much football. “Our and girlfriends always bitch we watch too many games. Well, it’s that time of year again, ladies. Last year during the fall, what did we do? We watched football on Sundays. This year, what do we do? We watch football on Sundays. Now let me ask you a question, ladies. What do you think we’ll be doing next year on Sundays? Get this straight. We are NOT going to change. Got it? So, don’t be counting on us to take you to Costco on Sunday! (crowd goes wild, men standing and cheering).
Jerry Seinfeld (Caesars Palace) — Jerry Seinfeld stands and delivers. I’ve only seen him once, which was once of his regular engagements at Caesars Palace.
Seinfeld is a one-man show who somehow manages to fill a mammoth-sized showroom. In an arena accustomed to the likes of cultural icons including Cher, Elton John, and Celine Dion, and others Seinfeld has a considerably tougher task, which is to entertain us for an hour and a half merely by talking to us. Imagine that.
I wasn’t a huge fan of his classic television show. Nonetheless, that same on-air personality shines through in his stage act. Seinfeld seems to be consistently the same person in every show and appearance, which I think allows him to connect better with us as a performer. He’s one of the few huge names who seems to “get us” when he parades through a whirlwind of common (seemingly unfunny) topics like laundry detergent. His routine on Tide has become a classic.
Seinfeld also delivers a completely clean show. There’s not a single curse word or vulgarity in the act. He doesn’t touch those topics. As previously stated, there’s something even more admirable to this achievement. Seinfeld once famously said about those who use profanity in their act, “I think they’re funny, but they’re just missing it a little. The humor is not quite there if you have to include those words.”
Whether one agrees or not, Seinfeld is certainly an act like no other. The only downside to his show is tickets are tough to get, and quite expensive. My recommendation is to see him once, just so you can say you saw one of the very best performing in his prime.
FAVORITE SEINFELD MOMENT: At one point during the show Seinfeld asks his audience — “Who in the world watches The Weather Channel? Anyone out there? I mean, who would ever do that? Who sits around all day and night and watches The Weather Channel when there are like what, 800 stations? Isn’t there anything else better to watch? How sick do you have to be to sit there hour after hour watching weather reports? Then, what happens when a hurricane is finally coming? The biggest storm of their entire lives. The announcement comes to evacuate and take cover. So, what do these people do? They announce, ‘WE’RE STAYING!’ They announce they’re not leaving their homes! So let me get this straight — they spent the last twenty years of their lives watching The Weather Channel and the storm finally comes? Listen to me: YOU’VE FINALLY HIT THE LOTTERY! Your number came up! And now, you’re going to STAY? What was the point?”