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The Man of the Madhouse

He’s big. He’s driven. He’s on an involuntary diet. Richard Abowitz takes the measure of Jeff Beacher, the wild guy behind one of the hottest shows in town.

Richard Abowitz

More than most people, Jeff Beacher does not tolerate bureaucracy, and his bane is their mellow, suited rulers, middle management. It is 8 a.m., and Beacher is running late for a very important meeting, in which he will pitch an idea for a radio show he wants to host—based on his Madhouse show at the Hard Rock—to the program director of KLUC 98.5-FM. But the attendants at the Hard Rock's bell desk are in no rush; rather, one gently, politely and with lots of detail explains why Beacher is screwed on getting a ride, and there is just nothing to be done about it.


He explains to "Mr. Beacher" that "Mr. Beacher" has not filled out the proper paperwork to put in the request for a car, and, in fact, "Mr. Beacher," as it happens, all of the Hard Rock's available cars are being used. But perhaps if "Mr. Beacher" could just wait a few hours a car would surely become available.


Beacher's face is contorted; he is furious. He looks nothing like the smiling, corpulent clown prince who hosts the Madhouse on Saturday nights by sauntering to the stage in a slovenly tuxedo with a glaringly red vest, surrounded by a virtual army of babes, offering himself as genially drunk (even if, in fact, it is only Red Bull that he has been drinking) and just a tad beyond caring about anything except getting wild and having a good time.


At this moment, Beacher could not seem any less like the life of the party. He is wearing loose jeans with a shirt that bulges out, displaced by his substantial girth. He glares at the bell desk employee, for a rare moment speechless. Since Beacher is not tall, the bell desk employee literally stares down his nose back at Beacher.


Beacher then glances at his Blackberry a moment and gathers himself. "Come with me," he says. We walk out the door. "Wait here for the car," he instructs.


Beacher then marches back into the Hard Rock. A moment later, he rejoins me just as a Hard Rock van pulls up directly in front of us. "I'll take you right to the station and then wait for you to finish there to drive you back, Mr. Beacher," the driver says.


"How'd you do that?" I ask Beacher as we hurtle to the appointment.


"I told them you were a reporter, and that he was making the Hard Rock look like asses in your story."


It will not be the only time in my attempt to document Beacher's world I am inadvertently cast as a prop in it. Let it be said from the start that Jeff Beacher knows how to use the press in more ways than any other promoter in Las Vegas.


"He is the best promoter I've ever met in my life," says Harry Morton, the Hard Rock's director of special projects. Morton is also a co-producer of the show and the person responsible for bringing Beacher's Madhouse to Las Vegas from New York. "I saw the Madhouse in New York and was an instant fan," Morton says. It was Morton who realized the Madhouse would be a great fit for the Hard Rock. According to Beacher, "I knew nothing about Vegas when I got here. But I trusted Harry."


Beacher's Madhouse launched in Las Vegas on December 30, 2003, becoming the first resident headliner ever at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. According to Morton, "It is the perfect fit for the Hard Rock. It is certainly different than any other Las Vegas show—if you can even call it a Las Vegas show. We like to have everything a little different at the Hard Rock."


A little different is an understatement. Beacher's show is more a happening, an event with the shape of a wild party, nothing like a traditional production, variety or comedy show in which the audience sits back and is entertained by the performers. Beacher's description: "It is a full-on comedy-variety circus with a little strip club and little nightclub thrown in." That first night, it was called Beacher's Comedy Madhouse, and this made some sense since Beacher started in entertainment as a stand-up comic, and he hosts the show and introduces the comics who perform in it. But stand-up is only a small part of what is happening onstage at the Madhouse. A recent show featured, in addition to stand-up, acrobats from Africa, a woman who lay on broken glass, some break-dancing and even karaoke. Not only that, Beacher realized that the word "comedy" in a show title was like a genre brand to a Vegas audience, and he did not want to appeal primarily to stand-up fans. He wanted the Madhouse to be the hottest sensation in Vegas, not just the coolest comedy revue. Beacher learns quickly and (perhaps this might have something to do with his impatience with bureaucrats) responds just as fast and as he sees fit:


"After the first show, I decided that in Vegas the show would be perceived and sell better without the name 'comedy' in the title. So we changed it to Beacher's Madhouse."


Actually, this is a far better name for the show for another reason, as well: the special vibe of the Madhouse is that there is no line between audience and entertainers. Audience members are encouraged onto the stage for contests and to demonstrate various skills, from odd to impressive. More than that, there are wranglers (cute girls, of course) hired to move about the audience to keep the energy high. And, most of all, a large part of the audience is comprised of hot girls with comped tickets, meant to be eye candy for the remainder of the crowd: a core cadre of VIPs, hotel guests, LA's rich and fabulous, and those corporations and fat cats who have bought tables up front for the season (Beacher's current run goes every Saturday through March 5, with two special Friday shows on March 11 and March 18). So, when Time recently noted, "It's impossible to get tickets" to the Madhouse, the more complicated answer is that it actually depends who you are. For example, if you are a hot girl who shows up with some equally cute friends, it won't be very hard to get inside. If you are a 37-year-old dude like me, you better have lots of cash or serious juice. According to Beacher, the breakdown for a typical show works something like this:


"For the Madhouse we sell 500-600 tickets up front, where people buy those tables and they are like season tickets, like Knicks tickets. So, they buy the tables. Then there's people from the hotel, usually 200-300 guests who get a chance to buy tickets. Then there are usually 200-300 girls we comp who have that special flavor."


To lasso girls with that "special flavor," Holly Slear, a talent producer for the Madhouse, a few days before a recent show, hired two hotties, sending them out with clipboards and the following instructions:


"Today, you are going to go to Fashion Show and you are going to go to the Desert Passage at the Aladdin. Remember, no cocks; we don't pick boys. Get beautiful women, only beautiful women. We need names, addresses, e-mail and telephone numbers. When you go up to the girls, be sure to tell them how beautiful they look. Sweet-talk them all that you can. Don't get me any cows! Make sure you get the beautiful women who bring in the men who buy the tickets."


The result is that gorgeous girls surround any lucky guy who gets into the Madhouse; if you are on the make, Beacher's Madhouse can be like fishing in an overstocked lake. So, in terms of the tables that matter, Beacher's Madhouse is more or less sold out even before the doors open. But with its heavy promotional budget and comps for so many girls and VIPs, even if it's sold out, does the Madhouse make money? Beacher is up-front: "Mr. Kelley, the president [of the Hard Rock], and Phil Shalala, the VP of marketing, are amazing guys, and they really support my show. If it weren't for the backbone of support and the huge amounts of marketing money they put into my show, the Madhouse would not be a success at all. We make a great team."


Does this mean that Beacher's Madhouse is an old-style Vegas loss-leader, meant more to bring people in the door than turn its own profit? According to Harry Morton:


"You can view it that way. He certainly isn't making money in the way a Cirque show does, or Danny Gans. But every Saturday night, he is throwing in to the Hard Rock a thousand people that are great customers that fit our demographic. I couldn't ask for the show to be doing any better. Every show is sold-out and celebrity-packed."


This second point is crucial. Since opening in 1995, the Hard Rock has reigned supreme as the coolest casino in Las Vegas. It also had a special and unchallenged niche as the one casino both easily accessible to locals by being off Las Vegas Boulevard, while still managing to maintain all the cachet for tourists of any fancy megaresort on the Strip. For a certain demographic of the young and hip, it was a must-see stop on any Vegas trip. But the opening of the Palms in 2001 (and, to a lesser extent, Green Valley Ranch that same year) for the first time offered a direct challenge for the Hard Rock's clientele. The Palms got even hotter after a season of MTV's The Real World was filmed there. The Madhouse has helped the Hard Rock fight back. According to Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, "On Beacher's day, it's the hottest thing going around town, which is what it was brought in to do."


In particular, Beacher's gift has been to woo celebrities into the Hard Rock—and not just the famous and the almost-famous. Beacher is uncanny in his ability to attract stars who are the trendsetters, the ones who will draw the very best customers the Hard Rock could hope for.


A short list of celebrities who have attended the Madhouse includes Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, Paris and Nikki Hilton, Nicole Richie, Bijou Philips, Shannon Elizabeth, Tara Reid, Ice-T, Chris Judd, Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, Anna Nicole Smith, Kelly and Jack Osbourne, Kevin Federline, Dennis Rodman, Tommy Lee, Gary Busey and Rose McGowan.


Of course, this being the era of the reality series, many of these stars came to Beacher's Madhouse with camera crews in tow. Three reality shows have filmed segments there so far, including The Osbournes' season finale, on which Kelly sang karaoke, and a memorable Newlyweds episode when the Madhouse audience sang Nick Lachey "Happy Birthday." As for Anna Nicole Smith, she came onstage to receive a necklace from Leor, the jeweler. These sorts of high-profile guests generate enough buzz for the Hard Rock to be worth countless publicity dollars.


So there is nothing casual about how a celebrity arrives at Beacher's Madhouse. Most shows just put a famous name on a guest list for free tickets and hope for the best. But for Beacher's Madhouse, getting the famous in the door is a crusade. For example, two hours before the February 12 Madhouse, Nikki Hilton still had not arrived, and Adam Myers, a producer, was on it. "Beacher put me in charge of getting Nikki Hilton here. It requires doing anything she needs. There may be travel—like in this case, getting her here from the Palms. Also, she needs inside the show making sure her table can handle however many people she is bringing. Celebrities are so important to the show and the way we advertise the show that we bend over backwards to have them here, which includes sometimes delaying the show a little bit to make sure they get here in time." Hilton made the show.


Beacher's gift for networking celebrities and getting them to be seen at his show is extraordinary. But when asked about it, Beacher says simply, "I have a lot of friends and some of them are famous." It is a rare moment for Beacher to be reticent and coy and when I greet his answer with skepticism, he follows up by way of a long, twisting answer that runs along the lines that there is no good way for him to talk about his celebrity friends without looking like a name-dropper or someone who seeks them out for his own professional enhancement. "They just happen to be friends," he concludes.


So when Beacher and I run into Nikki Hilton (Beacher was, by the way, best man at her Vegas wedding, followed by her short-lived marriage) at Simon restaurant after the Madhouse, true to his word, the first thing Beacher does is order me to put away my tape recorder. "Every tabloid reporter in the world has a speed dial to an editor for news on her, it's disgusting," Beacher says. And, though he comes off looking good and the Hilton girl is sweet and does nothing that even the sleaziest tabloid reporter could twist into a story, Beacher insists that I not write about any of the specifics in order to protect his sense of her privacy.


The next night, though, Beacher forged some new A-list celebrity friends, and his description of how it happened makes it seem so casual it leaves me wondering why I never seem to wind up befriending the famous as I wander Las Vegas. (Unless you count the time a drunken Tara Reid stepped on my foot and started to apologize and may have finished if she had slowed her rapid stumble away from me long enough to get all the way through the word "sorry").


"Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz came into the Hard Rock yesterday, and they are staying at the penthouse suite. They were all having dinner at Simon, and I was having dinner with Chris Judd, talking about choreography for the Madhouse. And I just met them through a mutual friend, and we wound up all going to play blackjack together. We played for like five hours: Cameron, Justin and I and their entire entourage. I won $10,000."


And, as chance would have it, Beacher managed to find time between hands to suggest to his new buddies that they come see the Madhouse, which he is convinced they will.


"Yeah, I am sure. Both are extremely nice people. Justin had already heard about the Madhouse, and that it was awesome, so he wants to check it out. He was already telling me shit about the show."


Of course, the press somehow found out and reported that Justin and Cameron were staying at the Hard Rock: There were even rumors of an impending Valentine's Day wedding. It is buzz like this, always centered on the Hard Rock, that Beacher seems able to endlessly generate, and it is such an asset that the casino salaries him outside of his work for the show, just to promote the Hard Rock.


But while making a profit may not be the Hard Rock's top priority with Beacher, this isn't to say the Madhouse isn't generating plenty of revenue, too. In addition to the regular Madhouse, Beacher has also done a series of special shows at the Joint that feature Howard Stern's sidekick, Arte Lange. As we head to the radio station, Beacher explains that Lange (who was scheduled for appearances that Saturday) had already sold more than 800 tickets for each of his two sets. So Beacher felt sure of a guaranteed sellout, which he said would mean something like $100,000 at the door.


In the end, Beacher wound up getting the sold-out shows he'd hoped for, and a bonus. A reportedly inebriated Lange was barely able to get through his material during the second set, and a rowdy, restless and violent audience combined to create a scene that resulted in a series of press stories over the course of the following week, all mentioning the Hard Rock and the Madhouse.


"Some people would consider it a disaster," I tell him.


Beacher, in fact, couldn't be happier. "But it wasn't. It was amazing, because I got press hits in every single publication from it."


Lange's appearances aside, Beacher has discovered that Las Vegas offers many ways for an ambitious, hard-working guy to earn money. Take the profitable business of those girls with cameras who wander showrooms to photograph tourists in order sell them the pictures as a keepsake. Beacher started by exploring the typical route of finding a subcontractor to send photographers to the Madhouse. But when that company balked at giving Beacher a cut for arranging the deal, he quickly took a different approach.


"There is one company that owns most of the photo concessions in the casinos. And we are now going to compete against them. I tried bringing them into the Hard Rock and thought I had a middleman deal with them. But then nothing happened for a month. I wanted it to get going, to start bringing in revenue for the Madhouse. So I call them and they tell me they want to change the deal so that they don't have to pay my lousy commission; and we're talking like 5 percent, which would only be like $700-$800 a week, at most $1,000 a week. And, I was like, 'You aren't going to f--k me.' I was like, 'Remember this day, because over the next five years, I will destroy you,' and I hung up on them."


Beacher then formed his own company with Harry Morton as his partner, and signed the Hard Rock as their client. According to Morton, "The photo business evolved from an unhappy marketplace in that industry. It is a great concept, and it is a great moneymaker. So we decided we could do it better. We do the Madhouse, all our restaurants and the casino. This summer we will be doing the pool. And we are looking forward to more future success."


Beacher is a bit less circumspect: "It's doing $2,000-$4,000 a day," he claims of the photo business. He also notes he is now making 10 times the commission he was originally expecting on the deal. Beacher and Morton hope to expand the service to other properties eventually. "We'll steal all of them," Beacher says. "We have a great business. We'll slowly take over the whole photo concession business here."


Beacher has other plans for the duo besides the photo business: "We're working on bringing other shows to other hotels around Vegas. Cirque has the lock on $250-$300 tickets. I want to be that with $50-$60 tickets and have 10 shows going."


Beacher has always been driven like this. "I grew up middle-class in Woodmere, New York, around all upper-class families. It made me hungry. It started with roses. I would sell all the kids roses on Mother's Day. I literally sold the entire school, $1,000 in roses. Then, I was like, I could help all my friends in other schools do it. Then I started doing T-shirts. Before you knew it, I had 500 schools in the tri-state area, and I knew everyone in every school. Yes. I was 16, making more money in a month than my teachers did in a year. I also never missed a day of high school. I love being around people so much and socializing. From there, it was a natural progression to throwing parties and concerts. I did it until I was 21, and I just stopped, because I didn't want to be a promoter anymore."


But the 9-to-5 world held even less appeal. "I was miserable. I tried everything, and nothing worked. I lost money trying a phone business. I tried being stockbroker. I wound up being a furniture salesman. I was making a fortune, like $250,000 a year in salary, but I didn't like it. So, I started doing stand-up, and it developed into the show. But, you know, doing stand-up is a full-time job. You can't do anything else. So now I just host the show, because I love doing everything."


And Beacher means everything. This visit to KLUC, for example, is a crucial part of Beacher's endless yet meticulous planning (his itemized to-do list runs over 40 pages) to expand his empire (he also wants to turn the Madhouse into a television show). "We are trying to get a radio slot so we can start a show and develop a nationally syndicated radio show. It will have from my show some of the comedians and celebrities. We want it to be Las Vegas-based, with a lot of energy and fun pranks. We are going to KLUC to try to get a radio slot."


The meeting with KLUC Program Director Cat Thomas lasts less than 30 minutes (though Beacher has been pushing for the meeting and the project with Thomas for months behind the scenes). For most of the time it is Beacher doing what he does best: selling his vision. Beacher tells Thomas to give the Madhouse the worst possible time slot available. The point during the weekend when there are the least number of listeners. "I'll bring the audience," Beacher promises. "It's going to be sick." Sick happens to be one of Beacher's favorite words of praise.


A couple days later, there's another meeting and the deal for Beacher's Madhouse Radio is done. (The show is set to premiere on KLUC on Saturday.) And Thomas was suitably impressed by Beacher's pitch to do more than just give Beacher a chance to sink or swim at the worst possible radio hour. Instead, Thomas is putting serious backing behind the show; he's put two of his top talents from the Morning Zoo show on the project in order to help Beacher develop his radio skills. Thomas also decided to give Beacher's Madhouse Radio a higher profile on the schedule (Saturday 10 a.m. to noon) than Beacher had asked for.


"We gave it a good time slot for a weekend," Thomas says after the deal is closed. "What we are looking to get out of Beacher is great exposure. We are looking for something fun, exciting and different for our listeners. I think adding Beacher's wackiness and irreverence and his ability to think not just outside the box but off the wall is going to be great."


But wackiness, irreverence and thinking off the wall don't just define Beacher's creativity: They are coupled with a personality that is powered by his relentless appetites. Beacher never stops pushing, never stops consuming, never stops working. So even his partner, best friend and No. 1 supporter Harry Morton, has felt the need to hit the brakes on Beacher occasionally, usually for Beacher's own good


"About a week ago," Beacher says, "I go to a table and put my money down. And the dealer is like, 'Hello, Mr. Beacher.' And then there is a security guard standing behind me going, 'Hello, Mr. Beacher.' All of the sudden, another security guard comes over to me and goes, 'Mr. Beacher, did Harry speak to you about this?' And I was looking at him confused. 'Well,' he goes, 'your play isn't welcome here anymore." So I call Harry, and Harry goes, 'That's just the beginning. Your eating and your gambling are out of control. Next, the restaurants are going to have lists of what you can and can't order.' So the latest is, I go up to my room and try to order a hamburger and French fries, and the guy is like 'Sorry, Mr. Beacher we are only allowed to send you fruit plates and salads.'"


Morton calls this "Beacher's behavior modification program," and Beacher is still adjusting to it.


"Beacher has been cut off from gambling," Morton says. "He is not allowed to gamble anymore. He is not allowed to order room service between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m., and he is only allowed salads and fruit the rest of the time. The minibar has been taken out of his room. He also has a very restricted menu at all of the restaurants. The goal is to try to pull some pounds off his fat ass. When he came to the Hard Rock he was 200 pounds, and now he is like 320."


Beacher's response? "Relax, I'm only 310."


(Numbers can be a funny thing with Beacher. In 2003, he told me he was 29 years old; he says he is 29 with as much fervor in 2005. When I point out that even by his own accounts he has remained 29 for over a year, Beacher replies, "I am 29." At least he is consistent.)


As should be clear, Beacher has no line that divides his life and work. He lives in a suite at the Hard Rock. One of his employees sleeps in a cot set up at the foot of Beacher's bed. Many of the people who work for him are his friends—a few from back in New York. Three people tell me they work as Beacher's right-hand assistant, and when I ask Beacher which of the three is in fact his top aide, he laughs. The result is that the Madhouse management style will never be taught at Harvard Business School or even in best-sellers about the things they don't teach you in business school. Behind the scenes of the sensation of the Madhouse is a sausage-making enterprise: bullying, ass-kissing, backstabbing and back-stage dramas, many with Beacher right in the middle. But one thing is for sure: Beacher's core employees are as driven as he is, and are devoted to Beacher and to the show in a way that is almost religious in its fanaticism. And for regular professionals, it isn't just bell desk employees at the Hard Rock who can be worn out by the constant pushiness and demands of Beacher's crew.


I remember that when Beacher's Madhouse first arrived in Las Vegas in December 2003, a young publicist recounted to me a nightmare day working with Chad Weiner, the Madhouse's director of marketing and promotions. It made her want to quit her job. I tell Weiner (who has been friends with Beacher since they met at summer camp when he was 12) this and he laughs, recalling that day well:


"We started at 7 am. We were going to every casino on the Strip to drop off packages with press kits for the show: to concierges, to bell desks, to anyone at any hotel to get our name out there. After eight hours, she wanted to stop! But for us there is no stopping. And I made us keep going until 10 p.m. that night. She was pissed. I don't remember her saying anything, though I could see the pain in her eyes. But I had no choice. I can't let Beacher down. I remember Beacher then told me to call her up the next day to take us to some more networking functions. But all of a sudden she wouldn't return my calls. It is funny, but really, all we do is work."


Beacher credits his work too, when asked to describe his rapid success from furniture salesman to the impresario of the hottest show in Vegas. "If you work hard, everything else comes." But he does note that there was a learning curve back in New York that he benefited from and, as a result, "I did everything pretty perfectly out here."


But to Harry Morton, the one who first saw the potential for the Madhouse to be a sensation in Las Vegas, the reason is more than work: "It is all Beacher. Beacher is a likable guy and people love him. But really Beacher is larger than life, and that is the Hard Rock, and that is Las Vegas. Again, it is a perfect fit."

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