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A timeline of comedy on the Strip*


Dayvid Figler

1946 Old-school comedian Jimmy Durante performs at the opening of the Flamingo. Casino patrons seem more stimulated by the prospect of gambling in a place without water or civilization anywhere in sight. “Ha cha cha”—indeed.

1947 A horse named Lucky Silver plays roulette at the El Rancho Hotel to the bemusement of comedy-starved patrons. Three years later, long-faced Rat Packer Joey Bishop makes his debut at the same place. These events are not related.

1948 Song parodist Spike Jones and his fully furnished ensemble (horns, accordions, washboards, whistles, gunshots and warbling vocals) play around the pool at the Flamingo. Like Rehab, only with more cowbells.

1952 Sands opens. Jack Entratter named entertainment director. Convinces Sammy, Dino, Frank, Joey Bishop and, um, Peter Lawford (?) to go shticky in and out of the showroom. High-jinks ensue. George Clooney is born in Kentucky.

1955 Noel Coward for a whole month at the Desert Inn. Famed playwright tells mocking tales of English stuffed-shirtery. Surprisingly, a highbrow hit!

1961 Oft “blue” comedian Buddy Hackett told to clean up the language for a show at the Sahara. Hackett eliminates the potty words but comes onto the stage naked. He’s a tubby guy. That’s funny. Oh, and George Clooney was actually born this year. C’mon!

1962 Comedy legends Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Jackie Mason and Danny Kaye all play at the Desert Inn. Danny Thomas wanted to play, but apparently it was a restricted club.

1963 Bottoms Up, a daytime vaudeville revue with antiquated one-liners, fancy dancing and bodacious, busty gals, opens at the Castaways—then literally bounces from one property to another well into the ’00s. Inspires other amazing daytime revues such as Nudes on Ice, Knockers Down and Hey, Look at my Tits!

1966 Woody Allen debuts at Caesars. Crowd laughs heartily at the moose bit. Not so much the Gertrude Stein references.

1968 Rickles records the LP Hello, Dummy at the Sahara. Rapid-fire racism, but he kids. He kids. See him in 2005 at the Stardust, toned down and doing a shvitz-riddled tribute to James Cagney. Still loves Puerto Ricans.

1973 The celebrity-roast era of Dean Martin at the MGM Grand begins. Lasts 11 years. Buy the tapes off of late-night TV infomercials. First person to figure out why Foster Brooks is funny gets a shot of Goldschläger on us.

1975 Estimated year of Shecky Greene’s apocryphal tale of drunkenly crashing into the fountains at Caesars Palace, then asking for “no spray wax” upon inquiry by the police. Purportedly saved both the Riviera and the Tropicana in the 1960s with his cutting-edge lounge act. Claimed Frank Sinatra once saved his life by telling his entourage “that they could stop beating Shecky.” Actually, Shecky tells it better.

1978 Steve Martin debuts at the Riviera. In 1980, records live tracks here for the rarely-listened-to The Steve Martin Brothers. Announces his retirement from stand-up. Excuse me?

1980 A rooster challenges customers to Tic-Tac-Toe at Vegas World (née the Stratosphere).

1982 An orangutan plays craps at the Tropicana.

1985 The World Famous Comedy Store comes to Las Vegas. Others follow.

1987 Improv at the Riviera.

1991 Catch a Rising Star at Bally’s.

1993 Comedy Stop at the Trop. Penn & Teller start a five-year run at Bally’s.

1994 The Captain Howdy (featuring Penn Jillette) releases a record containing the wittiest song about the city, ever. “Dino’s Head” explains what being too hip to play Vegas actually means: “Frank Sinatra was naked in this room.”

1995 Improv moves to Harrah’s. Vacant space at Riviera becomes the cleverly named Riviera Comedy Club. Entertainment director in charge of Riviera booking is Steve Schirripa, who later dies amongst the model trains as Bobby Bacala in The Sopranos.

2001 Blackie Hunt and Sonny King ham it up amongst the calzones at the Bootlegger Bistro. Old shtick never looked so fresh. Try the veal. The pratfall graveyard haunted with octogenarians with the-show-must-go-on-and-on ethic. They may have occasionally bombed, but they never did disappoint. Well, until they actually died. (What, too soon?)

2002 Second City in full swing at the Flamingo, including future cast member of Saturday Night Live Jason Sudeikis and 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon. They used to come out to the old Café Roma and do free shows for the masses. Comedy heaven in the last coffee shop with spontaneity.

2005 The Comedy Festival debuts at Caesars Palace. Robin Williams: dead or alive?—answered.

* All dates and information are approximate or just made up ... to the extent that you have proof that they are inaccurate consider them “fun facts.”

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