By Caroline Fontein
The Las Vegas Strip has a new premiere comedy club with the opening of Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand. While most other comedy clubs, including Garrett’s old location at the Tropicana, are hosted in a bar, lounge or meeting space that has been repurposed, the new venue was custom-built to be everything that the comedian and actor always envisioned.
From the seating to the sound system, the new club isn’t just a change for Garrett. It’s an upgrade for comedy fans in Vegas. Now visitors have the option of going to a club built especially for seeing live comedy.
The club at MGM Grand opened in March. While the facility is new, the interior and vibe emanate old school. Garrett, who started performing in Vegas in the ’80s, explained that being old school means harkening back to a better time, something he wants guest to experience when they step inside his club.
As a veteran performer, Garrett, 52, knows a thing or two about being old school. His early gigs in Vegas were as the opening act for big-name performers including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli. With 25 years as a headliner on the Strip under his belt, Garrett always wanted to open a club in the city that helped launch his career.
Before performing in Vegas, Garrett got his big break as the first winner of “Star Search” in 1984. The win helped Garrett get an invite to be a special guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” At 23 years old he was one of the youngest comedians to ever perform on the show.
After his success on the stage Garrett transitioned to the silver screen, landing roles on popular TV shows at the time including “Roseanne,” “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld.” His first major role in a sitcom was as Robert Barone in the CBS series “Everyone Love Raymond.” The show debuted in 1996 and ran for nine seasons. His work in the show earned Garrett an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
Garrett has also appeared in various films including: “The Pacifier,” “Music and Lyrics,” “Suicide Kings” and Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown.” As a voice actor he’s been featured in multiple films including “Finding Nemo,” “Casper,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Ratatouille.”
With the opening of his comedy club in Vegas, Garrett has seen another one of his dreams come to fruition. VEGAS.com had a chance to talk to the 6-foot-8-inch tall comedian about his new comedy venue on the Strip.
Q. Apart from location, how does your new comedy club at the MGM Grand differ from the Tropicana?
A. “This is a club I’ve had the opportunity to build from the ground up. It includes everything I envisioned as the ultimate comedy club that I kind of wanted to do from the beginning. From the styling to the design, it has an old-school feel kind of like a New York club back in the ’40s, but it still has that old kitschy Vegas theater vibe. It really looks like a mini theater but with a nightclub vibe, a nightclub setting… It’s a little more intimate than the Tropicana. It has more of a custom design feel.”
Why did you want the comedy club to have an old-school vibe?
”I just love an old-school feel. To me it harkens back to better times and better days not just in Vegas but in nightclubs and theaters generally. I mean you think of the older clubs like the Copa Cabana in New York or the Stork Club or Jilly’s or places like this. The East Coast really had a different vibe as did Vegas in the ’50s. A lot of it is just, I like that older feel, that older look. I just think it’s a lot more of an intimate feel for a nightclub. There’s nothing contemporary about it. It’s older and plush and it harkens back to a better time in the world.”
Why did you want to start a comedy club in Vegas?
“It’s something that I’ve really always wanted to do at the right time. The positive thing about the Tropicana is it was really an opportunity for me to see how to do things and how not to do things. There was a big learning curve over there, and I was grateful to the Tropicana for giving me a place to start out. After a while, I realized that the property you’re at is obviously paramount in any decision making process of where you want a club. Anyone that gets in the club or restaurant business and looks at it as a business is foolish because the success rate is usually not in your favor. So it’s really just a passion for me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to have a showcase for up-and-coming comedians, a place for them to work on their craft as well as bring in the seasoned veterans.”
What do you look for when you’re booking talent for your club?
“I like to bring in guys and gals that maybe are a little edgier, that maybe have more of an opinionated comedy, ones that are more unique. I love bringing in new young people as well, but it’s really comedians that have their own voice, that are non-derivative, that are just unique in what they do. Style is everything in comedy. With so many comedians out there it takes a little more showcasing to really see what is unique and new and funny. There is a lot of talent out there that isn’t being tapped… I discovered a lot of guys when I was working across the street that we’ve brought with us to be part of our comedy family… It’s great to be able to say, ‘Hey here’s a room, you don’t have to be famous, you have to be good.’”
How do you think stand-up comedy has changed over the years or are new comedians today still doing the same thing as acts from the past?
“I think comedy is always what it was and what it was destined to be which is a voice, a voice to the community, a voice for politics, a voice for all different types of people going through different things. We go to comedy clubs to feel we belong, to feel we are familiar, to feel we can forget our life, and in this day more than ever, the world is in a scary place. I wish I could say that we’re in a better place than we were 20 years ago, but I don’t think unfortunately we are. Stand-up comedy is really the best escapism I think for people. I think that’s why we love it.”
When you perform is that material something you’re always working on creating?
“A lot of my act is riffing on the audience. I’m kind of known for that. People have called me an insult comic, but that’s really my thing. I love to improv. Every night I would say half of my act is different because I literally go off the audience, and the other things I take from life… I think when [people] come to my show, many of them love that interactive feeling. They love to become part of the show… It levels the playing field. It lets them have a type of fun they’re not going to have by going to a big theater or watching a comedy special, and I love to make people feel that it’s a special night of comedy.”