The drive out was easy. Usually not the case when one drives from Los Angeles to sin city. But only comedians, entertainers and old folk travel to Vegas on a Monday. My drive was made easier with the help of my favorite podcasts playing off my iPod. My current podcast suggestions are as follows:
1. WTF w/ Marc Maron
2. The Bugle w/ Jon Oliver
3. Monday Morning Podcast w/ Bill Burr
4. Comedy and Everything Else w/ Jimmy Dore
5. David Feldman Comedy Podcast w/ David Feldman
6. NPR’s Fresh Air
Marc Maron’s WTF has quickly taken over as my favorite podcast. That guy is just really good at talking. Highly recommended for road trips, work commutes and mental escapes from the hellish reality that is your life.
As my drive continued there really wasn’t much to do other than not crash your car. I-15 is pretty boring stretch of interstate freeway. On either side is desolation or the occasional neighborhood of identical suburban houses. What they are a suburb of I couldn’t tell you as I drove further and further away from civilization. Around 1pm I needed some lunch and pulled off in Baker, California. Baker is the “Gateway to Death Valley”. It says so at the bottom of a giant thermometer that you can see from the freeway. I had a choice of several restaurants and decided on Bob’s Big Boy. I thought this was just a well known burger joint like In-n-Out or Fat Burger. But this one was a sit down restaurant. It was terrible. As a rule you should never go into a diner style restaurant and try to order fancy. I went with the thinly sliced turkey on Chibatta bread. It’s a burger joint. I should have listened to my gut, both before and after the meal. I should have gotten a burger.
I got back on the road and after a quick two hours I was driving into Las Vegas. During the dark ages practitioners of black magic were feared and killed on sight. In Las Vegas they get a theatre, a suite and miles of I-15 advertising space. That’s when you realize you are close to Vegas. Giant billboards of creepy magicians and forgotten country stars pop out of the desert terrain like wild cacti. Then, on the horizon, you see a gathering of buildings that history and geography tell you should never go together. A pyramid, the Eifel Tower, the New York Skyline and a castle have no business sharing the same horizon but in Vegas it’s business that they all share. But I drove past these newer luxury novelties for my destination was at the far, forgotten end of Las Vegas Boulevard.
The Riviera is an old resort casino. Back in the hay day of Vegas it was a premiere destination. But the glory days have faded much like the multi colored carpet of the hotel lobby. Designed in a bygone era when the standard of luxury was defined by how much brass, fake black marble and low ceilings you could cram into a building, the Riviera made me sad. I pulled into the drive, not sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to drive below ground into a garage lit by red neon lights. I stopped in the valet line expecting a quick footed valet to open my door and welcome me. What I got was a two minute wait as a man with a moustache hobbled over from his corner hang out to hand me a ticket.
“Just leave the keys in. I’ll get it later” He said. Then he hobbled back to his corner. I grabbed my two pieces of luggage and moved towards the entrance. The entrance is actually below the lobby. What greets you are a set of elevator doors (brass) and two heavyset men dressed as bellmen who try hard not to acknowledge you exist.
“Hi fellah’s,” I said. One looked at me, frightened, the other mumbled hello while staring at the ground. It was as if both realized at the same time that neither possessed the power of invisibility. I checked in and made my way up to my room in the South Tower. My view over looks the roof of the casino and beyond it you can see Circus Circus across the street. Its building is shaped like a massive big top tent and a gigantic clown rises above the casino, pointing demonically at the entrance while in the other hand it grasps a massive lollypop. I’m not sure what the subtext is telling me.
It was nearly six thirty by the time I got settled so I did a quick walk around the resort. I noted the following:
1. The Pool is closed.
2. The toilet in my room looks like it was stolen from a dive bar in Bakersfield.
3. Everyone looks terrible under the lights of the Casino.
4. There should be a cut off age for outfits cocktail waitresses wear.
5. Fat girls love to dance.
THE SHOW: Night One
I was pretty excited to perform in Las Vegas. This is a step forward in my comedy career. I don’t do the road all that much because I’m based in LA. The industry is there and since I’m also a writer and actor, going on the road never really appealed to me all that much. But getting a gig in Vegas is a kind of a big deal. It’s not that far away and the pay is usually really good for the amount of work you are doing.
The Comedy Club at the Riviera is much like the rest of the hotel. It’s seen its hay day and boasts that it was the #1 Comedy Club in Las Vegas six years in a row. On the website there is a promo video that plays. In the back ground late eighties generic pop music plays and the comics they showcase, with the exception of Dom Ierra, haven’t been on the scene in a long time if they ever were. When I arrived at the club I realized why. This club was #1 about twelve years ago. You can tell because none of the framed headshots of the featured acts are in color. On the billboard outside the club are photos of this weeks act. Aside from my own picture, the other two comics still have black and white headshots. That means they’re done. They may be on the road, performing all year but they aren’t trying to move their careers any further. This is as far as they’re getting. The crowd started showing up. One of the things I found odd about the club (and Vegas as a whole) is the attempt to dress the place up. All the employees wear outfits and uniforms that harken back to Sinatra’s Vegas. To the early 1960’s when Vegas was a destination for Americans and mobsters to escape to. At the club the doormen and floor manager wear all black tuxedo style suites. The hotel staff is dressed similarly. But the crowd coming in wear baggy Midwestern sweatshirts and horrible mom jeans, topped with fanny packs. It looks odd, these tuxedo dressed doormen taking tickets from people who look like they spent the day at the Mall of America. The promo for the club advertises “Extreme Comedy Performances: Hypnotist, Magicians and Shock Comedians”. None of this would turn out to be true.
The first show was slow. About thirty people, most of them grey haired and bent. I came up and did my ten minutes. I ran through one version of my set just to get a feel for the crowds. They would laugh at strange things. When a premise was introduced you would hear gasps or laughs as if that were the punch line. I got through it. Not all of my material went over great but I got them laughing, which as the host, is the most important thing. I got off for the first comic. The headliner shook my hand and said, “The bar has been set.” I took this to mean that he would have to work hard to out do me. A nice compliment. I won’t comment on the other comedians performances. Who the hell am I and not being familiar with the Las Vegas circuit I am hardly a good judge. That said, when you listen to (not watch) the promo and hear how the club describes its performers and then go see the show, nothing could be further from the truth. The 8:30 show finished up. I wondered over to the bartender and got a beer. He was an interesting guy who had clearly been there for years. He had small grey eyes behind large round glasses that sat above an ‘80’s moustache. Like the club and the casino he had seen his hay days too. He asked me how I liked performing here. I gave him my automatic smile and polite answer, “It’s great. I’m really excited to be here.”
“How many shows you doing?” He asked looking over his glasses.
“Two a night for seven days.” I said.
“Thirteen more to go. We’ll see how you feel at the end of the week.” He laughed as he walked away. “Enjoy the buffet!”
“Anything in there I should stay away from?”
“Yeah, all things creamy.” He disappeared down the hallway. Foreboding crept over me. This week may be harder than I thought.
The 10pm show was looking good, the crowd promising to be even busier with 90 people. Not bad for a Monday I was told. So I go up and do my act. Cut out a few things and spent a little more time talking with the audience. It went well, I got them excited and laughing. I got off stage and was told by the floor manager that my act was too dirty. This struck me as odd since I’m not dirty at all. Subject matter may be sexual but it has a point to it and I don’t curse that much. Also we’re next door to a world famous nude review. I mean this crowd basically didn’t get tickets to the titty show going on one door down. Not to mention the club advertises as “Extreme Comedy” with “Shock Comedians”! So a few fanny packs got upset, the rest of the audience laughed. This is Sin City right?
Anyway, my confidence took a gut punch. I was feeling okay but lousy at the same time. The show finished. The other two comics split. They were over the whole “Lets hang out and grab a drink” thing. So I was left to my own devices. I was tired and annoyed at the sounds of slot machines and the smell of cigarettes. And this was night one! I’m so screwed. I hadn’t eaten and everything at the hotel was closed that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. So I wondered down Las Vegas Boulevard and settled on McDonalds. Across the street is a huge McDonalds with four jumbo screens on its front advertising its burgers. Seems unnecessary for McDonalds to need four jumbo-trons to advertise their burgers when you consider it’s the most popular fast food restaurant in the world. That said I got a McNugget meal and a McFlurry. Everything is okay after you’ve had a McFlurry.