All eyes are on the man onstage at Plaza Showroom who is so very easy to find. He jokes about moving the mic stand out from in front of his body “so you can see me better.”
But it is Louie Anderson who can see, and has seen, it all. He squints through what he terms the “747 lights” toward the edge of the stage, his left and our right. There, a man sits by himself, reclining slightly and gazing up at Anderson.
“You’re here alone?” Anderson says, moving toward the edge of the stage. The man says he is at the show by himself.
“And you brought a book with you? Really?” Anderson asks in astonishment. There is a book, dog-eared near the middle, placed on the round table where the man is seated. “I’ve seen iPhones and maybe an iPad, but never an actual book. How interesting.”
Anderson picks up the book, reads its title, “Covert Warriors” by W.E.B. Griffin. He asks if he can hold the book for a photo — taking the shot with his phone from the stage. He asks where the gentleman lives. Tucson, the man says.
“I understand there have been a lot of arrests for covert warriors in Tucson,” Anderson says. “Maybe that’s why you’re here.” The conversation lingers a few more moments on tales about war, the book’s evident subject. Anderson says, “It’s all bad. All wars are bad.” And the man agrees, telling the comic he served in Vietnam. “In the trees or in the sand, it’s all bad,” the man says.
“Oh, well then, I take it all back,” Anderson says, reaching down to shake the man’s hand. “You have a ticket for life to my show. I mean that.”
In the hands of a different type of comic, that man would have been dismissed in moments with something like, “I hope my act isn’t interrupting your reading!” But Anderson is unique as a master of pacing and conversation with those seated near the stage. He’s measured, never in a rush, the quiet moments as pertinent as punch lines. At times you feel as if Anderson has lost his way, adrift in thought, but just when that possibility enters your mind, he says, “Oh, I never forget where I am in my act. I’m like a savant.”
Anderson is in total control of his environment on the Las Vegas stage because he has been performing on Las Vegas stages for so long, nearly 30 years. The clip played in his introduction at The Plaza (where he opened this week and performs Wednesdays through Saturdays with tickets starting at $59.99) is of Johnny Carson introducing Anderson for the young comic’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1987. Anderson plugged his gig at the Comedy Store at the Dunes that night.
“I’ve been lucky to have played a lot of clubs in Vegas,” says Anderson, an understatement as large as his suit jacket. The comic himself needs to recite all those venues just to remind himself of his own history: “Let’s see, there was the Dunes, Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Golden Nugget, Desert Inn, back to Bally’s, the Sands, MGM Grand, The Orleans, The Rio, Excalibur, Palace Station and now to The Plaza.”
That’s a dozen hotels, and that doesn’t figure into all the touring, TV and movie work Anderson has performed over the years. He’s co-headlined with stars such as Barbara Mandrell, Natalie Cole, Glen Campbell and Ray Charles. He has been depicted in cartoon form, and the plastic promotional statue of him at Excalibur was so big it looked like a promotion for Bob's Big Boy.
From July 2010 until March of this year, Anderson was showcased at Palace Station as that hotel’s resident headliner in a theater named for him and produced and promoted by Bonkerz Comedy Club founder Joe Sanfelippo. His “LOL” stand-up show seemed to be getting a deserved boost when Anderson was cast in the ABC celebrity diving show “Splash” in February. But as Anderson was working out that deal (and also working out in the gym) to compete with the likes of NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and beauty queen Katherine Webb, the hotel expressed other ideas for that showroom: to turn it into a bar and haul in a bunch of slot machines.
That led Anderson to downtown, where the Plaza has a huge need for a performer with name and face recognition to anchor that classically appointed showroom. Such Plaza entertainers as veteran comic impressionist Rich Natole, performing at the hotel’s Bonkers Comedy Club, and endearing vocal ensemble The Phat Pack (at 5 p.m. in the big room) are depending on Anderson’s potential draw in the old showroom.
The man who runs the hotel, Jonathan Jossel, says there are two entertainers who have been stopped while walking through the casino: Anderson and Carrot Top. They are hardly alike, aside from their craft and their belief that there is enough interest in comedy in Las Vegas for all types of headliners to survive.
Anderson believes that, of course. The winding road he’s taken to the Plaza is quite a yarn. It would make a great book, a tome you might even bring to his show.