Still Hanging In There

It happens, Sinbad says. And probably more often than we would think.

He'll be walking around a downtown area somewhere or waiting for a flight at an airport when somebody recognizes him, walks up and asks him where he has been.

"My question to people is, 'Where y'all been?' " replies the actor/comedian, who returns to Las Vegas on Friday for a show at the Treasure Island Theatre.

Weirder still, is that the "where have you been" question usually comes after Sinbad already has done a show in the questioner's very city.

" 'Dude, you need to advertise' (they say). I say: 'Dude, everybody else came. It was sold out,' " he adds, laughing.

At least such silliness has given Sinbad the perfect title for his latest comedy special (10 p.m. Sunday on Comedy Central) and DVD: "Sinbad: Where U Been?"

But remember: Think of it not as your question to Sinbad, but as Sinbad's question to you.

"I've never stopped doing what I do," Sinbad explains during a phone interview. "I've never stopped being on the road. It's never changed for me. I've never stopped working.

"I think what happened is, because people didn't see me on TV or in the movies, they think I went somewhere."

Sinbad first hit the national spotlight in the 1980s with multiple wins on TV's "Star Search" talent competition. His resume includes work on several TV series, including "A Different World" and his own sitcom, films that include "Jingle All the Way" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many cable comedy specials.

More recently, a guest appearance on FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and his upcoming appearances on this season's "The Celebrity Apprentice" should help to make that whole "where have you been" thing moot.

What's behind the comparatively low profile until recently? In part, a sort of typecasting that pigeonholed Sinbad solely as an anti-shock comic who trades in stories rather than one-liners and who was very successful in family-friendly projects.

"I think what happens is, Hollywood took it, because of what I did onstage, that I had no bite," he says.

"So when I would go in and talk about doing other projects, (they said), 'I don't see you as that.' "

Actually, Sinbad's credits also include a 1996 TV movie, "The Cherokee Kid," that did go against that family-friendly image. Still, Sinbad says, "I haven't done the movie that defines me yet."

But that hasn't kept him from writing and pitching because, he says, "all it takes is once.

"And it's funny: Once you get the one, it's, 'Where were you? We've been trying to find you,' " he says, laughing. "And that's really going to cost you double. You just wait for the day you can say that.

"At the end of the day, for me now, it's not about being a superstar or anything like that. It's about doing good work. It's about doing things I like."

And, of course, Sinbad always has continued to work in the comedic form that brought him to America's attention in the first place. This weekend's Treasure Island show marks his return to Las Vegas after, he says, an absence of several years.

"I love playing Vegas," Sinbad says. "Vegas has energy, that crazy energy. And you stay in casinos and you can get some great food. I can watch shows and check out other things. It's not just, like, sitting in town waiting to get a flight."

Yet, the comedy landscape is different from those days when he was starting out, with fewer comedy clubs -- at least across the country, if not necessarily here -- and a greater reliance on sure bets among those that remain.

Although "Star Search" may have brought Sinbad to mainstream America, "I developed an audience before 'Star Search' in comedy clubs," he says.

In those days, "people came to comedy clubs to find a new cat," he adds. "Now, they want a name."

That probably makes it tougher for those who are just starting out. But, Sinbad says, "know what? If you want this bad enough, it's not about how tough it is."

As for his own career, the years Sinbad has spent in refining his craft have not only made him more proficient in stand-up but, in a way, more free to play with its conventions.

"It's more like jazz now," Sinbad explains. "I've got all the notes, and now I can twist it up."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ or 702-383-0280.