Many years ago, the ’90s, (yes, last century!), I was booked as the emcee/opening act for a variety show at the Catch a Rising Start comedy club in Las Vegas. This series of shows had a singer in the middle and a comedian headliner.
It was one of those opportunities where I got everything possible: a fantastic hotel, a 24-hour pass for food (19 meals a day if I wanted), and free run of the city during the day (well, everyone got that). All I had to do was three shows a night. I loved it! It was more comedy than I had ever done, more food than I have ever eaten, and I was playing showbiz central: Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is unique in many ways, including a special type of health problem.(No, not that.) Singers who get booked in Sin City are at risk for a malady called Vegas Throat. It’s struck everyone from Frank Sinatra to Cher to Dolly Parton. It’s caused by going back and forth between the dry desert air outside and the chilly air conditioning inside. When singers don’t keep their pipes hydrated, the result is a hoarse and raspy voice and even a cough.
Thanks to Vegas Throat, the middle act, a singer, was not able to perform all her songs. I was asked to expand my set to make up for shortened set. No problem! My time grew with each show and by Saturday night was doing 20+ minutes to open the show and five minutes to introduce the headliner.
The last show of the day was populated by “high enough” rollers who were comped admission to the midnight variety/comedy show to soften the pain of a serious losing streak. This was considered by all in management to be a really hard show. Imagine an audience filled with tired, stressed people who were only there because they were too tapped out to continue gambling.
I’ve always been known as a clean(ish) comic. I don’t swear and stick to mostly family-oriented subjects, but for this crowd and this show, management thought I might be too clean. They suggested I spice it up. I wondered if I should spice it up. I understood their logic; these were not Vegas Virgins, but jaded regulars who were much harder to win over, much harder to entertain. Would the addition of “ salty” language do the trick? More than a few folks backstage thought it would. But I thought I’d look like I was trying too hard if I threw in a few taboo (for me) words just for the sake of coloring up a bit.
What to do?!
Not taking advice from management was not always a good idea. The headliner was told sternly to do a certain amount of time in an early show, and when he went significantly over (although he was killing), he was visited by two large men in suits who explained how keeping hundreds of people in the showroom would cost the casino thousands of dollars. If he didn’t want to make up that lost money, he’d stick to his time. (Same goes for all of us.) No one went over after that.
While I was encouraged to go blue, I didn’t. My clean material worked great. That notoriously hard show was my best performance of the week. Lucky for me, the audience included an agent/manager who was there to hear the singer. She was only doing one song by this point, so he heard very little singing, but a whole lot of Steve.
He approached me after the show to ask if I always did such clean comedy. We met again in Los Angeles a few weeks later, and he set up an audition for the cruise industry. While the audition went sideways, (a story for a future blog post) I still got a few weeks of work which lead to years performing on ships all over the world as well as many opportunities on land, too.
I can’t remember the name of the singer who forgot to stay hydrated, but I’ll never forget the guy who gave me the opportunity that changed my life (and bank balance): Peter Paull.
Peter got out of managing maybe 15 years ago, but we’re still solid friends, always have been. I am so thankful that when he saw someone raw with some promise, he took a chance on me and helped me get a leg up in a very competitive business. My start in the cruise industry expanded to include radio and TV, commercials, clubs, colleges, and corporate events. I continue to do 10 cruises a year and can even tell you the ships and the dates—they book a year in advance.
And, every day, I get a cup of coffee and write new material.
I’m one of the most fortunate acts I know of, and it’s all thanks to one lucky Saturday night in Las Vegas where I didn’t ditch the jokes that brought me to the dance. My reward for staying true to my craft was meeting Peter Paull.
Peter, I wanted to tell everyone how much I appreciate you!
Loved reading this Steve! Great story!