Teaming Ray Romano and Brad Garrett as a big-ticket casino attraction is a stroke of genius, right?
Well, sure. As long as everyone understands "Everybody Loves Raymond" was based on Romano's act, not Garrett's.
Before "Raymond," Garrett spent 16 years as a road comic, a few of them opening for showroom headliners on the Strip. When the sitcom took off, he was happy to give comedy a long nap. But Romano coaxed him back to the live stage, and Garrett re-emerged.
As Don Rickles.
"It's nice to have you here, fresh from flight school," Garrett says, almost right out of the gate to one patron, mimicking an Arab accent.
"There's nothin' like a black guy and a hot blonde," he says later, singling out a guy he will keep coming back to. "You're here with two strippers? I thought I smelled brass."
He even picks on the Mirage usher, leading a couple of late-comers to their seats. "Orville Redenbacher's here. He's gonna kick some ass. He's gonna take that dead cat off his head and whip you with it."
After all this in only a few minutes of his half-hour, Garrett says it before anyone else can: "If you were expecting Robert (his character from the show), you may want to leave now."
If Rickles has that benevolent grandfather thing going for him now, the 47-year-old Garrett doesn't try to blunt the sheer outrageousness of doing early-'60s insult humor. The fact that he's a famous guy from TV lets him do what an unknown couldn't. And anyone still not amused can take heart that Garrett directs a lot of the barbs at himself, in material about his post-divorce life.
In perhaps his only nod to his innocuous comedy of the '80s, Garrett imitates Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne. Except that it's maybe not so much an imitation as an amazingly similar voice. "I do that a little too good," he notes.
In one of their Mirage shows together last month, Garrett also predicted -- in Romano's voice -- that Romano would complain about having to follow the crude stuff. Not a problem.
Romano changed the tone with only a joke or two -- "(Garrett) will be on the Don Imus show tomorrow" -- and was soon into the solid section of Vegas-specific comedy that served him as an unknown club comic and still works for him in the big-ticket appearances.
He loves the drive-through wedding chapel -- "We'll get married but I'm not gettin' out of the car" -- or the fact that in Las Vegas, "you can look at a Picasso while you're holding a bucket of nickels."
Unlike Garrett, Romano worked The Mirage while "Raymond" was still in production. But he didn't make time to write a whole new act, and some of it got a little too familiar. These days, a lot of it seems fresh while falling within familiar themes.
When a comedian strikes it rich on a sitcom, there's a tendency to diminish him as a stand-up. But Romano's relaxed grip on his audience seems more controlled than ever. His domestic humor about marriage and children is elevated by a sharp sense of detail. His sex routines are so matter-of-fact and nonsalacious in their awkward truth that it takes a while to realize he's turned the corner from G-rated material.
"It takes very little for women to fall out of the mood," Romano says, and alcohol provides "a very small window from putting her in the mood to putting her to sleep very fast." If a couple ends up doing it in the back seat, he figures it wasn't because they were trying to re-live their teenage years. "It's because he hit two red lights."
At the end, Garrett and Romano take the stage together to answer questions from the audience. At this show they were mostly about "Raymond," so it's a good thing they just happened to have that blooper reel ready to roll.
Romano told one woman that if he came back to TV, he would want it to be on HBO so he could tell his family to shut up in more explicit terms.
Until that day, he can keep working with relative finesse, and bring Garrett along for the blunt edge.