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The Strip

It’s hard out there for a man-whore

Performers can ply their trade on the Strip, but there are limits

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Photo: Rick Lax

Robert used to drive a bus, but he told too many jokes and got fired. Now he works as a busker. He paints the words “MANWHORE FOR TIPS” on his massive stomach in big black capital letters, and he walks along the Strip wearing a pink bra, a plaid skirt and white go-go boots. He takes photos with tourists for tips, and he takes a lot of them.

“At first, my wife was against the whole man-whore thing. But once she saw how much money I was making, she said, ‘I guess it’s better than unemployment.’ And it is—I’ve got two kids, and this job lets me work as much or as little as I want.”

Robert’s not the only performer/artist on the Strip: If you walk in front of Paris Las Vegas at the right time, you’ll see an Elvis impersonator, a Rick James impersonator, a Captain Jack Sparrow & Davy Jones impersonation team, a green toy soldier, a silver boxer.

Wonder Woman (Barbara) and Vader (Christopher) are Hollywood imports. Wonder Woman came to Vegas in July; Vader last week.

“I came here for the first time back in 2006,” Vader said, “along with Chewbacca. But I went right back to Hollywood because I was told it was illegal to work the Strip for tips. But lately there’s been all kinds of rumors floating around that things are decent now.”

But decency is relative; some casinos are still trying to get buskers off the Strip. Magician AJ Olsen, who performs in front of the Paris fountain, tells this story:

Strip Stake: Wonder Woman and Darth Vader work the street for tourist tips.

Strip Stake: Wonder Woman and Darth Vader work the street for tourist tips.

“My partner and I were approached by some very friendly Metro police officers, who told us that they got a call from the Paris saying we were throwing three-card monte. They took our pictures and ID’d us. They asked me, ‘Have you ever been convicted for drunk driving?’ and ‘Have you ever been arrested for anything?’ and ‘Do you have any parking tickets?’ But then I showed them some magic tricks and they believed me.”

ACLU attorney Maggie McLetchie says the reason the police officers don’t kick AJ and the other buskers off the Strip is that they don’t have the right.

“For over 13 years,” says McLetchie, “the ACLU has been litigating the question of how the First Amendment applies on Fremont Street and on the Strip. And the courts have repeatedly held that each area is a public forum. The land underneath the sidewalk in front of, say, The Venetian, is not city property; it’s unincorporated county land or privately owned. The casino operators took the position that the First Amendment didn’t apply there, and that they could exclude people from sidewalks in front of casinos. But court rulings have been established that the Strip is a public forum. So on all sidewalks along the Strip, you have full First Amendment rights. They are a public forum under the law because of how they function.”

Are there any limits on street-performers’ rights?

“You can’t obstruct foot traffic and you can’t beg aggressively, but aside from that, performing for tips on the Strip is legal,” says McLetchie.

So things are looking up for Las Vegas buskers. But before you take your act to the Strip, you might want to check with Metro (who didn’t respond to my call) as to specific regulations or the current law. And you should know that while the job has its perks (the hours), it also has its downsides.

“Once, some tourist punched me in the head,” says Robert. “I didn’t even see who it was, but it left a big bump.”

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