Road Story: A Cunning Plan

He rushed the microphone like a blitzing linebacker. Despite his focused-yet-polite 14-year-old aggression, he still ended up fifth in line. He waited patiently/not patiently until his turn came. He stepped up to the mic, took a deep breath, and let his question fly.

Neither my son Griffin nor I had been to a comicbook convention. The Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con seemed like the perfect place for me to rediscover the superheroes of my distant youth, and for G to find his. We showed up two hours before the doors opened, and still were 200th in line. At least we had our tickets. The line to buy or pick up tickets was 4 times as long.

Seriously. Comics conventions are HUGE.

While we waited, G wandered over to the convention merch table. He bought himself a lanyard with a clear laminate. He figured it was a good way to carry around his money. The better to keep it handy for impulse purchases. To dress it up a little, he cut out the picture of Stan Lee from the cover of the con’s program. It fit perfectly into the laminate. With Stan Lee grinning from the lanyard around G’s neck, we headed in as the doors finally opened.
Our first stop was the line to get an autograph from Todd McFarlane. Todd wrote and drew Spider-Man for Marvel, revolutionizing the character in the process. He later broke away from Marvel and started his own publishing company, Image. He’s a giant in the world of comics. His deal was this, he would autograph two items for each person, would pose for a picture, and would spend a moment chatting. Over 100 people were in line in front of us.
Ninety minutes later, we stood in front of Todd with a total of three Spawn comics. On impulse, G asked Todd if he would sign the laminate. “Hey, Todd. Wanna sign Stan Lee’s face?” Todd grinned and Sharpied his distinctive signature across the bottom of the laminate. A cunning plan was beginning to hatch in G’s mind.

Our next stop was Kevin Eastman, the creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. His deal was, he would sign one item per person. Additional signatures were available for $30. He signed a comic for each of us, and drew a quick sketch of a Turtle. Cool guy. Very down to earth. On impulse, G held out his laminate and said, “Do you want to sign Stan Lee’s face?” Seeing Todd’s autograph, Kevin said, “Sure!” Again, VERY cool guy. No charge for the extra sig.

We then went to hear a talk by Rob Liefeld, the creator of Deadpool. Rob is funny, a tad profane, and very, very smart. He IS Deadpool. Or, Deadpool is he. Either way, great talk. Afterward, we were walking by Rob’s booth. He was sitting in a corner opposite his gatekeepers and the immense line queuing up for his autograph. His deal was this, every autograph cost something like $60. It was out of G’s price range. Undeterred, G slipped around to Rob’s end of the booth, out of sight of his people. G said, “Great talk Rob! This is my first time at a convention.” Rob said, “Cool!” G asked, “Would you like to sign Stan Lee’s face?” Rob looked at Kevin and Todd’s autographs and immediately blurted out, “Oh, HELL yeah!”

Watching these artists talking with G, I realized that they remember what it was like to be a 14 year old fan. Even in their extremely wealthy middle-age, they still haven’t lost their own boyish enthusiasm for a fun idea. Signing Stan Lee’s face was their idea of fun.

The final event of the con was a panel talk between Stan Lee and Todd McFarlane. Thus far, no one had really seen Stan. He was signing autographs, too, but only at $130 per, no exceptions. None. His lines were long and strictly monitored. Unlike the others, NO pictures were allowed, not even casual pics for which he did not pose. One could, however, purchase a picture taken with Stan in a curtained-off booth. Again, at $130 per. His people enforced the rules and kept a tighter perimeter than the Secret Service. It was understandable. Stan’s the man. He was the founding editor of Marvel, itself. He’s also the creator of Spider-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, etc. It’s fair to say that without Stan, there would be no comicbook industry as we know it. And at 95, he’s entitled to have things his way.

At 95, Stan is also hard of hearing and does not have the best eyesight, so Todd was essential to a panel with Stan. Todd kept things rolling, and made sure Stan shone. And shine Stan did. The two of them enraptured the adoring crowd of 1,000 people for nearly an hour. We learned, for example, that Stan has decided that the correct way to write it is, “comicbook.” On word, not two. G and I had seats about two thirds of the way back on the center aisle. We were having a blast.

Then came the question and answer segment. A mic was set up in the center aisle, near the stage. When Todd announced they would be taking questions, G BOLTED out of his seat and ran toward the mic. The whole bolting thing was a good idea. Fans flooded the aisle, jostling for a place in the line. When it all sorted itself out, G was fifth in line. Todd was listening to the questions, shouting them to Stan, and adding comments of his own. When G’s turn came, he stepped up to the mic and said, “Stan, I have Kevin, Rob, and Todd’s autographs here. Would you like to join them in signing your face?”
“OF COURSE he would!” Todd bellowed, and took the lanyard from G.

For the rest of the panel, G hung near the end of the stage as Todd held tight to the lanyard. As the panel came to an end, Stan shouted his signature “EXCELSIOR!” as he and Todd exited. G was close behind, focused on his exiting laminate, which was still in Todd’s hands. Stan and Todd disappeared through the curtains. G tried to follow, but was stopped by Stan’s security. “Todd’s got my laminate!!” G said. Todd, hearing this, turned and motioned G through the curtains. Stan signed his face, and G got to chat with Todd for a minute. G’s cunning plan had worked to perfection. He got the only free Stan Lee autograph at that convention. Plus one heck of a story. Stan, as Stan does, signed his name big, bold, and completely over the top of Kevin and Rob’s. Seeing it later, Rob laughed his ass off, as did Kevin.

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How To Make An Easy $2,000 In Just 90 Days

I met Dave Hester, the “Yuuup!” guy from Storage Wars. Nice guy. Very down to Earth and open. I asked him how the whole storage unit auction thing works. He said, “Let’s say some guy named, I dunno, “Kevin” rented a storage unit and didn’t pay the bill on it for 90 consecutive days. After making an effort to find “Kevin” and giving him a chance to get current, the storage company will put the unit up for auction. I…and other bidders…will come in and bid on the locker. The winning bidder pays. The auctioneer gets a percentage, the storage facility takes out what it is owed on the rental, and the rest, by law, must go to the renter. In this case, “Kevin.”

“Are you really prohibited from touching anything in the locker?” I asked? “Yep.” He said, “Only the winning bidder can touch it, and only AFTER they pay.”

The following dialogue went like this…
KEVIN: What do you look for in a locker? What makes you really open your wallet?

DAVE: Lots of neatly taped boxes, big rubber storage tubs, big shapes covered in blankets to keep dust off, and a very clean, organized locker.
(As I said before, very nice guy. Happy to talk about his job and to share.)

KEVIN: Let’s say “Kevin” has a big locker. It’s filled with everything you just described. What would someone like you pay for that?

DAVE (SADLY): Well, until the show it wouldn’t have been that much. Maybe $500. Now, people bid it up to $3,000.

KEVIN: Would you feel comfortable paying that much?

DAVE Comfortable, but not thrilled.

KEVIN (CONCOCTING A CUNNING PLAN ON THE FLY): If “Kevin” filled a locker full of neatly taped boxes, big rubber storage tubs, etc, is there any rule or law saying there has to be anything in them?

DAVE: No. People can store whatever they want, even if it’s empty boxes.

KEVIN: Since you can’t touch it until you pay for it, you’re buying a pig in a poke, yes?

DAVE: Yep, the risk is all mine.

KEVIN: So, if “Kevin” wanted to make a quick $2.5k minus auctioneer fees, three months’ storage rental, and the cost of boxes and packing tape, he could fill a locker full of empty boxes and clear…what…$2,500, give or take?

DAVE (LONG PAUSE): Yes…..but……

DAVE (LONGER PAUSE): Hmmmmm…….

DAVE: Well, it wouldn’t be ethical, but it would all be legal. Though, “Kevin’s” credit rating would take a hit.

DAVE (AFTER ANOTHER LONG PAUSE): Please don’t do this at any of the places I work.

KEVIN: Tell you what, if I you ever see boxes labeled, “Kevin,” “Tom Cruise porn footage,” and “Costa Rica,” run the bidding up and dump it on Darrell Sheets.

DAVE (GRINNING): Deal!

Road Story: Minding the Family Business

Teary-eyed, she she tentatively approached. She was a small woman. No more than 5 ft tall. Early middle aged, dressed in casual, night-out-in-a-suburban-comedy-club chic. A perfect picture of Middle Class prosperity. She gently placed her hand on my arm and asked, “Could you please use your psychic powers to help find my missing daughter?” I took a deep breath…

From the mid-80’s until the early 00’s, I toured comedy clubs, colleges, and corporate events billed as “The World’s Only Psychic Comedian.” My show combined standup comedy, physical comedy, and mentalism. Mentalism is a performance art which simulates what people think of as “Psychic Abilities” through demonstrations of apparent mind-reading, future-predicting…that sort of thing. It’s a lot of fun. At the time, the elders of the mentalism word–cranky men in whose opinion the artform peaked in 1937–held that, “Mentalism and Comedy cannot and should not exist in the same performance.”

Of COURSE they can. Predicting which weapon…a seltzer bottle, cream pie, water balloon, shaken-up soda can, etc…an audience member will choose to assassinate me with can be hilarious. The dogmatic view that Comedy and Mentalism are like oil and water suited me just fine, as it resulted in me having the field pretty much to myself. Now, everyone’s doing it. There has been an explosion of mentalism over the past ten years, and the promo for all of them says, “…and comedy.”

I came to mentalism not through magic, as most mentalists do, but through a rather unusual source. My Great-Grandmother, Hettie Reilly, was a vaudeville performer during the earliest years of the last century. She toured the world in an act called, “The Verona Cycle Troupe,” which was a group of skilled female bicyclists. On tour in Australia in 1911, she grew weary of the road. She looked around for an occupation in which she could both use her showbusiness talents and sleep in her own bed every night. Asking around, she discovered and bought a Spiritualist Medium con from a man in Australia. She brought it back to the USA and opened her own seance parlor. For years, she conducted “seances” in which she would help her clients make contact with someone who had passed over to the Other Side. It was all a scam, but a lucrative scam.

It worked like this, let’s say you were desperate to contact a dearly departed loved one. Maybe you wanted to know where Uncle Eddie buried the money. Maybe you just wanted to know that your loved one was peaceful and happy. Maybe you wanted to give them a piece of your mind, which you didn’t get a chance to do before they passed. Whatever your desire, you would pay a visit to my Grandma in her office to see if she could help. Of COURSE she could…for a fee! But she didn’t know exactly what your needs were. She also didn’t want to ask too many questions. (After all, shouldn’t a psychic just KNOW?) So, she would perform a few “tests” to see if her abilities would be of any use to you.

The “tests” consisted of what essentially were magic tricks, but they weren’t just any magic tricks. Oh no. These were the closely-held secrets of psychic con artists. Not available in magic stores, but available only to those who had been accepted into the con, and then given deep instruction. The difference between what grandma did and magic tricks is like the difference between a Rolls Royce and a skateboard. These tests not only had to create true belief in the mind of the client, they also had to be undetectable as “tricks.” If her client even suspected trickery, the deal would be off and Grandma could be exposed. That would be bad for business.

After the tests showed that Grandma’s services could be of immense value, naturally you would want to book an appointment for a seance. Sadly, Grandma’s appointment book showed that she was not available for a few weeks. Your appointment for a seance would be booked, and you would leave happy in the knowledge that your intimate guide to the infinite side was ready to pierce the veil and make contact with your departed loved one. Which was good, because Grandma needed time for her private investigators to find out everything they could about you before the seance. She didn’t have Google back before WWI. It took time.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person by doing a little research. Enter the address of someone you know, but don’t know well, into Google. Check out the Street Level view of their home on Google Earth. What’s the neighborhood like? What kind of car is in their driveway? Any kid’s toys in the yard? Any tinfoil covering a window? Do they live near a school? How about a cemetery? Grandma’s investigators checked out all this and more. The would pull public records to see if there were any recent deaths in the family, and would check their sources to see if there were any recent scandals. Everything there was to know about you, her client, she knew by the time your seance rolled around.

The seance itself was spectacular. Her seance room looked like an extremely expensive and elegant dining room. The finest furniture, linens, even wallpaper. No expense was spared. The rest of her place was cheaply furnished, but clients never saw that. All they saw was a woman of means.
After the appropriate prayers and invocations, the seance began. The room was dark. Pitch dark. No light at all, which is spooky enough on it’s own. Grandma would slip into her trance, and assume the personality of her “spirit guide” who would translate the words of the person your seance was supposed to contact. Depending on how much more money she thought you could afford, the seance either left you completely satisfied, or needing perhaps just one or two more encounters with the Great Beyond.

Fast-forward to the 1970’s. Grandma was in her 80’s and long retired. To me, she seemed as old as Moses. She was tiny, barely 5ft tall, the skin of her hands translucent with tendons and veins clearly visible. Skilled hands. Strong hands which could confidently create masterpieces of quilting, the hobby with which she passed the time. I adored her and would spend hours talking with her about whatever came to mind. I was in my early teens, and had just discovered my new hobby, Magic. Grandma smiled as I showed off my awesome prestidigitation skills. As I finished what I thought was a magnificently baffling performance, Grandma said, “That was very nice. May I show YOU something?” It was incredible. She destroyed my youthful concept of reality. I was stunned. I had no idea as to her sordid past, and was absolutely fried by the complete and utter miracles she performed on that late Summer afternoon.

What followed was an apprenticeship which lasted until her death in 1977. She taught me everything. The entire con. From roping the victim in, to the tests, to the seance itself. She also made me promise never to use this information to con anyone. I believe she had repented of her sinful ways by that point in her life. She also made me promise I would never reveal her methods to anyone, except my own kids or grandkids. I promised
Fast forward again to 1990. I had been working as a standup comic for a few years, paying my dues and learning how to make people laugh. But I wasn’t completely satisfied, artistically. I wanted to add something no one else was doing. I thought about my grandmother and the work she had shared with me. Gradually, I began incorporating it into my show. A bit here–a test there. The response was TREMENDOUS. People LOVED this stuff. I kept adding, tweaking, and refining until it comprised half my show. During the process, I had one rule; The mentalism must serve the comedy, not the other way around. Far too many magicians and mentalists assume they can add jokes and gags to their tricks, and that makes it “Comedy.” Not even close. Comedy must come first if you’re going to be a Comedy Magician or Comedy Mentalist. It’s a long process of learning and mastering both arts equally.

Early on, I played the Mentalism straight, meaning I did not use a disclaimer saying, “This is not real. I am not psychic.” I believe that in a theatrical context, the audience knows they are seeing a show, and don’t need to have their hands held. David Copperfield never turns to his audience and says, “You know, I’m not REALLY flying. You just can’t see the wires.” That would spoil the illusion. I was creating the illusion of psychic powers, which I did as though it were real. And boy, oh boy, sometimes I got lucky.

Mentalists are opportunists. Anything they learn on the sly about the audience, they will use in the show. Some even go so far as to plant microphones in the theater’s restrooms to see what they can glean from casual conversation. I could never afford that. The equipment is too expensive. What I DID do is observe.

One night in a Comedy club, a young man in his mid-20’s was sitting with his wife near the back of the room. He was smoking. (This was a long time ago.) She motioned for him to give her a hit off his cigarette. He refused. She made a “Please” gesture. He refused. She pouted, but accepted his verdict. Take a moment and think what you might deduce from that before you head to the next paragraph.

During the show, I invited the woman onstage to participate in a bit of mindreading. Her job was to choose a random word from a book. Mine was to figure out the word and reveal it through my incredible psychic power, amid much laughter at my failure to succeed. Finally, I got it. (I knew it all along, the mistakes were for comedic effect.) She got a HUGE round of applause, and as I escorted her offstage, I I stopped us both. I said, “I have a weird feeling. I’d like to whisper something in your ear, and if I’m wrong, you can say so. If I’m right, you can say so. Either way, only you will decide if the audience gets to find out what I’m about to whisper. Is that OK?” She said it was. I whispered in her ear. She SCREAMED. I asked if she wanted to tell the audience what I said. She turned to them and said, “OHMYGOD. HE JUST ASKED ME IF I’M PREGNANT. NO ONE KNOWS THAT. MY HUSBAND AND I JUST FOUND OUT TODAY.” As I said, Mentalists are opportunists.

One night at the Barrel of Laughs Comedy Club just outside Chicago, I finished my show and was standing in the back of the room waiting for the MC, legendary Bill Brady, to wrap up the show. A woman approached me. Trembling and teary-eyed she laid her hand on my arm and said, “Could you please use your psychic powers to help me find my missing daughter?” I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go sit in the restaurant,” which was through an archway from the club. We took a seat and I explained to her that what I did was fake. She didn’t quite believe me.

I broke my promise to Grandma Reilly. I showed her in detail how I did everything. I left nothing out. She was disappointed, but she understood. She actually thanked me for letting her down gently and letting her in on the secrets. It was the only thing I could think to do. In that moment, I finally understood why my Grandma made me promise not to use these miracles to con people. Not only does it take a toll on the people being conned, both financially and emotionally, it also takes a toll on the con artist. I can only imagine the Karmic debt load my Grandmother took upon herself over the years, and how heavy that must have weighed upon her.

Stan Lee said in his Spider-Man comicbook series, “With great power comes great responsibility.” From that day on, I turned my show into a burlesque of Mentalists. I still don’t deny having supernatural abilities onstage, but my claims of power are so exaggerated and clownish that no one since has taken them seriously. Thank God.

Sin City Diaries, Book One

sign

What follows are snapshots of Las Vegas. They are all true.

Sin City Diary: Tonight in Las Vegas, tourists will pay hard-earned money just to hang out in an ultra lounge with a random reality TV star. A year from now, they’ll be able to hang out with him for free at his Applebee’s server gig.

Sin City Diaries. 11:08pm. A conventioneer from Green Bay is getting into a limo that will take him and his friend out to one of Nevada’s legal brothels. As he puts it, “Don’t think of it as “hiring a prostitute.” Think of it as “outsourcing your relationship.”

Sin City Diary. 12:22AM. As she provided ultra-lounge bottle service to the group of guys who would not stop hitting on her, the hot Vietnamese girl wondered if they would still grab her butt if they knew she had once been a hot Vietnamese boy.

Sin City Diary. 1:06pm. They stand in the pool, packed in like Tokyo subway riders. They are there because TV tells them that’s the cool place to be. Douchebag soup.

Sin City Diary. 10:30pm. The couple from Boston is on their way out of a Cirque show. They enjoyed it so much, they’re buying a program so they can find out what the hell it was supposed to be about.

Sin City Diaries. 7:02pm. He’d stood there for hours, robotically dealing cards. To make his day a little more interesting, he would occasionally deal from the bottom, not that it mattered. It was only ad cards for hookers.

Sin City Diary. 11am. Las Vegas’ newest resort/casino has been announced. Named “HELL”, it caters to age 21-and-over ONLY. The casino is named “Greed”, the buffet is “Gluttony”, the ultra-lounge is “Lust”, the hotel is “Sloth”, the pool is “Envy”, the VIP lounge is “Pride”, and the front desk is “Wrath”.Valet is called “Purgatory”. The resort has a billboard up at the airport which reads, “Welcome to Las Vegas. Now, go straight to HELL”.

Sin City Diaries. 7:02pm. He’d stood there for hours, robotically dealing cards. To make his day a little more interesting, he would occasionally deal from the bottom, not that it mattered. It was only ad cards for hookers.

Sin City Diaries. 12:08am. The casino put the non-smoking blackjack table directly between two smoking blackjack tables. The cowboy who is sitting down to play thinks that’s a lot like having a swimming pool with a no-peeing “section”.

Sin City Diaries, 6:09pm. An aging ex-heavyweight champion is walking slowly across the casino floor with a friend. Time and disease have robbed him of his legendary grace, but not the sharpness of his mind. As he passes, even hardcore gamblers stop and simply applaud. Reaching the elevator, he turns to his friend and says, “If people would only love each other the way they love me…”

Sin City Diaries. 1:31am. A male dancer in a huge production show brought the woman he met tonight up to his rustic cabin on Mt. Charleston. He thought it would be romantic to sweep her up in his arms and toss her onto his waterbed. He’s forgotten that it’s the dead of Winter in the mountains, and his cabin has no electricity. The waterbed is frozen. It’s OK. She’ll regain consciousness in 5 minutes or so.

Sin City Diaries. 10:03pm. The young construction worker from Cleveland is praying that his future Mother-in-Law did NOT hear him just call the Bellagio fountain show, “The ultimate money shot.”

+Sin City Diaries. 11:10pm. The actor from Indiana held in his hands a 1691 Second Quarto “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare. As he read Mark Antony’s funeral oration, (page 37,) he wished he had the $40,000.00 necessary to purchase the treasure. He would content himself with having held it, breathed it in, and spoken the timeless words aloud; as direct a connection to the Bard as he was likely ever to get.

+Sin City at Midnight. Girls in tiny dresses are waiting to get into ultra lounges where guys hoping to get laid will spend $400 for a bottle of Grey Goose and the right to sit on a couch. Who says the American Dream is dead?

Sin City Diaries. 10:57pm. A Devil Worshipper handing out literature on Fremont Street just swore “to God” that he was really a Satanist. It must be his first night.

+Sin City Diaries. November 20th, 12:10pm. Upon the announcement that his beloved Flamingo Hotel would host the “World Series Of Beer Pong,” Bugsy Siegel rose from his grave and shot himself in his other eye.

Sin City Diaries. 10:00am. A college student on his way to his senior year in in California bet his tuition on red. Goodbye UCLA, hello Harper Community College!

+Sin City Diaries. 9:42am. The caretaker of the estate owned by a Middle Eastern royal family is wondering for the zillionth time why, in all the years they have owned the property, no one has ever stayed there.

+Sin City, 12:25am. A homeless guy just caged a total of $10 off tourists on Fremont Street. He’s heading into Mermaid’s for a deep-fried Twinkie and a beer. Whatever cash is left over will go into a progressive jackpot slot machine. If it doesn’t hit, he’ll sleep tonight in Woodlawn Cemetery and hope for better luck tomorrow.

Sin City Diaries. 10:02pm. A Strip hotel valet is parking the Bentley of the guy who laid him off last month in order to hire a less expensive recent college grad. He’s sitting behind the wheel and considering the possibilities.

+Sin City Diaries. 12:47pm. On the far outskirts of Las Vegas, a construction crew is breaking ground on a new subdivision. They are digging new holes in the desert, and are finding old holes in the desert. The foreman is dialing 911.

+Sin City, 3am. A suite the Venetian. The girl in the rabbit suit got too drunk while waiting for Paris Hilton to show up at the party. She stripped off the rabbit suit and was about to get gang-banged by a bunch of even drunker Oompa Loompas. Security grabbed her and is hustling her out the back door of the suite before Paris gets there and sees what’s going on.

+Sin City, 3:30am. A guest room in a major Strip hotel. Five minutes ago, a guy shot and killed another guy for offenses real or imagined. It won’t make the news because it just doesn’t, you understand? It. Just. Doesn’t.

+Sin City. 7:52pm. A 1970’s Pop Icon is walking through the back hallways of the casino. As required by his contract, every hotel staff member he encounters does not acknowledge him, or even look at him. What he doesn’t realize is, they probably would behave that way anyway. Most of them are recent immigrants who have no idea who he is. They think of him as “Song Man.”

Sin City. 12:48pm. Two 30-something women from Vancouver are laying by the pool at Mandalay, thinking that “Partying like a Rock Star, WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO!” last night might not have been the best way to start their vacation. (Tonight, they’ll find out the hard way they didn’t use enough sunscreen…)

+Sin City, 2pm. He just lost all their vacation money at a blackjack table while she was gathering information about shows she wants to see. They haven’t even checked into the hotel yet.

+Sin City, 4:22pm in a small, off-Strip retail store. A crook dressed as a fire-extinguisher serviceman just conned his way behind the sales counter, ostensibly to “examine the fire-extinguisher.” In reality, he’s writing down the make and model number of the safe so his buddies will know what they’ll be breaking into when they rob the place tomorrow.

Sin City, 12:22am. A hotel security guard is nursing a fat lip from a drunken tourist who deliberately headbutted him, despite the fact that he was just trying to help the bastard find his room. He’s taking solace in knowing that the guy also teed off on Metro when they came to arrest him, and Metro don’t play that. He’s wondering how many flights of stairs the guy “fell down” on the way to being booked.

Sin City, 3pm. A US Senator from Nevada is taking a sex break with one of his very married staffers. He’s thinking about increasing her salary. And her husband’s. And her son’s. She’s clearly doing a GREAT job.

Sin City Diaries. 7:45pm. An aging performer is making his return to a Las Vegas showroom. His contract calls for a security escort from the limo to his dressing room. Security is tasked with keeping overly-zealous fans away. That won’t be a problem.

+Sin City Diaries. 5pm. A couple in the their 70’s just got married onstage in a showroom by a comedian. While his ordination is technically legal, he’s not really much of a Minister. In fact, he misspelled “Reverend” on their marriage certificate. They couldn’t care less. They are ecstatic over starting their new life together.

+Sin City Diaries. 7pm. A Strip-headlining magician walked past a mirror without stopping to admire himself. Realizing his missed opportunity, he re-traced his steps and corrected his error.

+Sin City Diaries, 11pm. A tourist from Wisconsin is having a great roll at the dice table. Even better, he’s pretty sure he’s going to get lucky with the attractive young woman who is standing next to him, squealing and clapping at his good fortune. Each time he wins a hand, she taps his stack of $100 chips with the bottom of her beer bottle for “luck”. He thinks it’s adorable. He also likes the fact that she presses her enormous boobs against him when she taps. He doesn’t realize the bottle has sticky-putty on it, and she’s been stealing $100 with each tap. He’s up $9k. She’s up $800. Not bad for 20 minutes’ work.

Sin City Diaries. 7:45pm. The opening act introduced himself to the headlining comedian, and held out his hand to shake. Mr. Headliner…you know, that guy with the TV show…offered only his little pinkie for the handshake. The opening act is quietly hoping he doesn’t become that much of a douchebag when he gets famous.

Sin City Diaries, 11:58am. The hardworking marketing team for Luxor is about to take lunch following a grueling morning of working to convince tourists it’s a great idea to vacation at a property that is modeled after an enormous tomb.

Sin City Diaries. 1:22pm. A 33-year-old physics professor from Vancouver is stepping off the plane. She’s been working out religiously for the past year. Her body is lean and fit. Her divorce is final. She’s here to celebrate, and is hoping Sin City lives up to it’s reputation.

+Sin City Diaries. 8pm. A woman is in line at 7/11 and is getting frustrated by the clerk’s slowness in completing the transaction of the patron in front of her. She’s unaware that the patron is robbing the store at gunpoint.

Sin City Diaries. 2:12am. A blackjack dealer and his accomplice have just tried their new undetectable method of cheating. They are extremely proud of themselves, and are looking forward to their upcoming windfall. Security is already on the way.

+Sin City Diaries. 3:03am. A young woman is waiting outside a hotel suite to pay the hooker her show producer boss hired to seal the deal with a potential investor. She’s thinking the cheapskate should have sprung for better than a $300 hooker.

Sin City Diaries. 3:43 p.m. A drag queen in full costume got into a fender bender with a burly construction worker. The construction worker decided not to punch her out since she is a lady. Or perhaps because she’s 6’9 in heels.

Sin City Diaries: 8:14 a.m. A celebrity arrives at a plastic surgeon’s office to get a discrete procedure performed. She’s unaware that the receptionist ratted her out to the tabloids, and that photographers are already taking up position outside.

Sin City Diaries. 11:11pm. A gansta rapper is standing next to his limo outside the Hard Rock. He’s delaying departure because his Mother called from the suite and told him to wait ’cause she’s on her way down.

Sin City Diaries. 4:14am. A drunken gambler is urinating all over the piece of the Berlin Wall on display in the men’s room at Main Street Station casino. (No ironic commentary required.)

Sin City Diaries. 1:20pm. A man walking past a bank of slot machines unobtrusively drops a dollar token on the floor next to a woman playing a machine. He points out the token, asking her “Did you drop that?” As she bends over to pick it up, the man’s accomplice reaches through the slot bank and steals her heapin’ bucket o’ dollars.

Sin City Diaries. 1:50pm. A woman is hitting the mall to spend last night’s money. She gets rid of it as fast as she makes it because she subconsciously loathes the way she earns it

Sin City Diaries. 6pm. A Fremont street fortune teller opens up her Gypsy-style wagon/office and prepares to tell people what they want to hear for only $10 per reading. Despite the current economic situation…or perhaps because of it…her business has never been better.

Sin Ciry Diaries. 4:03pm. A couple checking into their room has already been pitched to buy a condo, see a free show, and breathe flavored oxygen. If they think these people are aggressive, wait until they meet the nighttime salesgirls!

Sin City Diaries. 2:07am. A tourist is leaving an adult ballet establishment. He’s convinced that “his” dancer really, truly cares about him, and would love to date him if it wouldn’t “get her fired.” Can’t have THAT! After all, she’s “working her way through a pre-med degree at UNLV.”

+Sin City Diaries. 1:41pm. A home-improvement superstore’s employees are scrambling to throw tarps over multiple pallets of cement-mix bags that have been left outside. Occasionally, it rains in the desert. Hard and unexpectedly.

Sin City Diaries. 2am. He’d been hanging out on the outdoor deck at VooDoo for an half an hour or so, checking out the brunette with the crooked smile and mojito. A sudden gust of wind blows her VERY short skirt up around her waist; and blows his hat off his head and over the edge…51 stories straight down. He considers it a reasonable trade as he walks over to introduce himself.

+Sin City Diaries. 2:36am. A cab driver just took a drunk tourist on a 45 minute trip that SHOULD have taken only 7. Joke’s on the cabbie. The guy is broke and is bolting out of the cab.

Sin City Diaries. 8:56pm. The Devil Worshipper who offers people Satanic pamphlets on Fremont street has been challenged by a tourist as to whether or not he’s a true Satanist. The Devil Worshipper must be new because he replied, “I am, too! Swear to God!”

The Lord of the Wasteland is a Mensch.

KISS

Holy crap. Gene Simmons was sitting alone in my empty showroom…
It’s no secret that I love KISS. I have been a fan since their first eponymous album was released in 1974. To this day, I consider BLACK DIAMOND to be one of the greatest all-time rock songs, and I’ll fight anyone who says different. I’m a member of the KISS Army, with 40+ years of service. (Which reminds me, I should look into the KISS Army retirement plan at some point.)
Before we proceed…I know. Their music is simplistic. It’s written for 15 year olds. So what? I was 15 when I became a fan. In this digital age, I am not required to give up ALL the joys of my youth just because I have a mortgage and an AARP card. And while I may not be able to rock-n-roll all night and party ev-er-y day, I can manage at least a solid hour per week. OK, 40 minutes.

I’m aware that Gene has a limited voice, and is a good journeyman bass player; a little more melodic than most, but no Entwhistle. I know Ace played some licks current guitar players still quote, but was an unreliable champagne drunk. Paul has a great voice. Good high singer. Not much of a guitar player. Peter Criss….my boyhood drum god….was the luckiest drummer in the history of ever. His drumming is rudimentary, and feels like a swing drummer being forced against his will to play rock n roll. I do not care. He’s the MAN.

I saw my first KISS concert in 1975 standing on plywood covering the ice in a 1,000 person capacity hockey rink with Susan Hunt Johnson and Gary Silver. I saw them a few years later in a 12,000 seat arena. I never saw a no-makeup years concert. I saw the reunion tour, the farewell tour, and the 10th year of the farewell tour. I’ve sat in the cheap seats waaaaay in the back, and have sat in the 4th row. The latter with Chris Artim. We reveled in the fact that we could afford seats away from the guy in the back who yells “WOOOOOOOOOO” during the entire concert. We also decided to rush the stage during ROCK N ROLL ALL NIGHT. Chris said, “Do you think we’ll get in trouble?” “Nope,” I replied. “We are prosperous-looking, middle-aged White guys. They won’t touch us.” (Yep, White Male Privilege in all it’s glory. In this particular instance I am #NotAshamed.) During said stage rush, Gene looked at us and mouthed the words, “Will you remember us?”

Oh hell YEAH we will!

The genius of KISS, to me, lies in the makeup. Gene Simmons took four guys, none of whom were good looking enough to be rock stars, and by putting them in makeup and over-the-top wardrobe which includes 7-inch leather heels, he created the first ageless rock band. The men under the makeup might wrinkle and get liver-spots, or even change altogether, but the band will remain exactly the way they were when they first kicked in the door of your adolescent awareness. Gene Simmons created icons in an era when the word “icon” was and is grossly overused. In doing so, he created a financial empire.

Gene loves money. A lot. He’s licensed the KISS logo for everything from condoms to caskets. He gets us coming and going. And he’s good at what he does. Are we still talking about business? Yes. Yes, we are. His estimated net worth is $300 million, putting him on par with Prince, Cher, and Diana Ross. As an added bonus, he’s had sex with at least two of those three.
In 2010, I had a show at the Excalibur Hotel/Casino. I was walking through the showroom in the middle of an afternoon, and there he was. It was Gene. Gene was sitting alone in a booth in an otherwise empty theater waiting for…….who knew what? Who cared what? Gene Simmons was sitting alone in my empty showroom. These chances come NEVER in a lifetime. I walked straight over and introduced myself.

Kevin: Excuse me. Mr. Simmons? I’m Kevin Burke, my show is onstage here at 7pm.

Gene: Your show?

Kevin: Yes.

Gene: (EXTENDS HAND FOR A HANDSHAKE) Very nice to meet you.

Kevin: Thank you. You know, I saw your first national tour. You were touring with THE JAMES GANG.

Gene: Ohhhhhh, THEY were touring with US.

Kevin: I stand corrected. I just wanted to thank you for teaching me the most important showbusiness lesson of all, back when I was 15.

Gene: What is that?

Kevin: That you have to do it your way.

Gene: And what does that MEAN?

Kevin: It means you have to do it your way. Not this guy’s way, not that guy’s way, not even Gene Simmons’ way, but YOUR way.

Gene: AH, now, there you’ve said it. There’s always going to be someone who tells you you’ve drawn Superman’s cape incorrectly.

Kevin: Yes! But I’ve taken the lesson one step further.

Gene: (QUIZZICAL LOOK)

Kevin: I’m the only one onstage.

Gene: Yyyyyes….?

Kevin: Which means I keep all the money.

Gene: (SPREADS HIS ARMS, GRINNING) My SON!!!!

I guess I’m Gene Simmons’ son. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

A couple of years later, I met Paul Stanley. I gave him the same “Thanks for teaching me at a young age to do it my way.” His reply was, “That’s what I’ve been fucking trying to tell everybody!!!”

Apparently, I’ll not be adopted by Paul.

They say that when you meet your heroes you are crushed to find out they are jerks…or worse, that they are mortal. Gene was neither of those things. He was the friendly, generous, Socratic, eternal God of Motherfucking THUNDER.

Next time we run into each other, have me do my Gene Simmons impersonation. It rocks.

My Two Favorite Laughs

knighttrump26s-1-web

Above: Bob Knight.

I’ve been a actor/comic since 1980. I’ve never had any other job. Over the years, two laughs stand out in my mind, and both were an audience of one.

Laugh One: As I was finishing up college at Indiana University, I had to make a decision. Should I become a full-time comic? Or should I seek out a more conventional career path? It was decision heavy on my mind the day I went to listen to IU Basketball Coach Bob Knight give his annual talk to the student body. (If you don’t know about Bob Knight, suffice to say he was not only a great coach, he was also…volatile.)

I lived off campus in an apartment complex owned by Scott May, former member of the NCAA Championship IU team of 1976, and was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. On my way out to Coach Knight’s talk, I asked Scott what question could I ask during the Q&A that would actually impress Coach with depth of insight into the program. He said, “Ask him if the passing game the way he coaches it is ahead of it’s time.”

Thus armed, I headed up to the mic at Q&A time, and asked the question. I immediately realized Scott had set me up. Coach looked at me for a ling second as his face turned as read as his famous sweaters. He launched into an angry five minute tirade with more curse words than I knew existed. He wasn’t angry at me, but at the team. He ended his epic rant with, “These *&^$8#^$ couldn’t pass the &@*$&#@ ball if I let ’em deflate it and throw it like a *#*@*^@# FRISBEE!” (Clearly, Scott had seen the practice that day, and had led me into his fiendish trap.) Coach wound down, looked at me and said, “Sorry….what was your question again?”

I had two choices. Slink back to my seat, or go for the laugh. What the heck…”Do you think the passing game the way you WISH you were coaching it is ahead of it’s time?” I asked. He stared at me for what seemed an eternity, as the other 2,999 students in the auditorium sucked the air out of the place with an audible gasp. He threw back his head and laughed…hard. BOOM!

In that moment, I knew if I could make Coach Knight laugh after snapping, I could make anyone and everyone laugh. Career decision made.

Laugh Two: I was in Las Vegas on the Red Carpet for the opening night of Jersey Boys. I found myself standing next to one of my comedy heroes, John Cleese. (If you don’t know who he is, he was/is a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.) John is notoriously cranky about signing autographs, but I at least had to try. I slid over next him and looked up. (Literally. He’s 7’2 or something. If he came at you doing his Ministry of Silly Walks walk, he could step over you without breaking stride.) I introduced myself, and offered my Red Carpet laminate and a Sharpie. “Would you mind?” I asked. “Of course,” he said, and wrote “F%^k off, Kevin.” Grinning, he handed it back. I figured I might as well take a shot and said, “You have to sign your name, otherwise people will think it was Eric.” (His fellow Python Eric Idle being famous for being extremely mercurial. Extremely.)

BOOM! My other favorite. I can’t begin to describe how it felt to make arguably the greatest comic mind of the past 50 years really LAUGH.

He signed his name.

 

Is Broadway Dead in Las Vegas?

broadway (1)Broadway! We love it. We pay big bucks to see it, whether on Broadway itself, at the Smith Center, or in a resident casino show. But what is it, exactly? What makes a show a “Broadway” show as opposed to any other show? Is it the music? Singing? Acting? Dancing? None of the above. The answer is surprisingly simple. If a show played in a Broadway theater in Manhattan, it’s a Broadway show. Currently, there are 41 Broadway theaters in NYC.

Broadway has a long and glorious history in Vegas casinos. Stars including Betty Grable, Frank Gorshin, Juliet Prowse, Jack Soo, Dick Shawn, Tony Danza, Carol Channing, John O’Hurley, Ann Margaret and, yes, David Hasselhoff, have all performed in Broadway shows in casinos. Peter Marshall, host of TV’s “Hollywood Squares,” starred in two separate Broadway shows here before he became a television star.

Broadway musicals were first offered by casinos in the early 1960s. The Thunderbird produced two to three Broadway shows per year. Over the years, Vegas casinos have offered “Fiddler on the Roof,” “South Pacific,” “Mame,” “Sweet Charity,” “Hair,” “Flower Drum Song,” “High Button Shoes,” “Artists and Models,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Anything Goes,” “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert,” “Starlight Express,” “Cabaret,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Jersey Boys,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Million Dollar Quartet,” “Lion King,” “Spamalot,” “The Producers,” “Avenue Q,” “Chicago,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Hello Dolly!,” “Tommy,” “Cats,” “Rock of Ages,” “Rent,” “Hairspray,” “Miss Saigon,” “A Chorus Line,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” The Odd Couple,” “Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth,” “A Bronx Tale,” “The Boys in the Band,” and “Defending the Caveman.”

Virtually every casino on the Strip has hosted a Broadway show at some point, as well as the Plaza, Golden Nugget and The D on Fremont Street.

As an actor, I’ve been astonished by the quality of work I’ve seen here. Something about a long run enables actors to dig deeply into their roles. “Jersey Boys” made me tear up three times during the show, “Music of the Night” from “Phantom” made my “soul take flight” all four times I attended. Mark Donovan’s monologue in “Million Dollar Quartet,” in which he describes Sam Phillips’ recording studio as a place where “the soul of a man never dies,” never failed to move me, and I saw it every night on the way back to my dressing room after my show.

My daughter, McKenna, and I rocked out, laughed, and had a blast at “Mamma Mia!” on her eighth birthday. (No, I didn’t know the plot beforehand. Yes, I had to dance around the question, “Why doesn’t she know who her daddy is?”)

But that’s the beauty of Broadway shows. They make us ask questions of ourselves. They make us think, and feel. They move us. (Not that spectacle-centered shows and reviews aren’t wonderful. After all, I am a spectacle guy myself, having toured with Ringling Bros.) Broadway shows ask a little more of an audience. They ask us to engage. To follow these wonderful characters as they act out the arc of their life stories, sometimes to victory, sometimes to their own destruction. It’s an emotional as well as a sensory experience, and that’s what makes Broadway special. That’s what makes it important. Broadway tells us a story about us.

Currently, Las Vegas is in a “Broadway doesn’t work in casinos” phase. The closing of three shows during the past year have sounded the predictable death-knell of Broadway in the tourist corridor. I think that’s a bit premature. Broadway cycles in and out. After their national tours wind down. “Book of Mormon,” “Wicked,” “Hamilton,” or something equally wonderful will take up residency in a casino, and the headlines will read, “Vegas Discovers Broadway!”

Until then, there is one Broadway show in a casino residency today. It’s been here since 2007 and has set the records for longevity and number of performances — over 4,000 — of all Broadway shows in Vegas history. It’s a one-person comedy about men and women in relationships. It explains women and men to each other in a way that brings couples together, instead of tearing them apart. It’s called “Defending the Caveman,” and is presented nightly at The D at 8:40 p.m.

As the actor in the show, I’ve been privileged to be named Entertainer of the Year in 2008 and set the Guinness World Record for Most Theatrical Performances in 50 Days. It’s a show of which I am extremely proud, and I’d love for you to see it. Grab your significant other, have some laughs, and let me tell you a Broadway story about you.

For Caveman tickets, call the Box Office at 702-388-2111, or book online at TheD.com.

 

~Burke