Payback was hell.
Comedian Bobby Slayton, who can dish out the ethnic slurs with the best of them, took his daughter to see Don Rickles, the godfather of insult humor, at the Stardust.
A first encounter with Slayton's agitated delivery, "Goodfellas" rasp and front-row banter with "the homos" and other minorities could leave the impression that Hooters Hotel had signed Rickles' heir apparent as its new star. Comparisons will get easier each year that brings Slayton closer to the Friar's Club gravity of an old Catskills comic; the veteran stand-up turns 52 this month.
But Slayton knew Rickles would single him out from the stage. And, truth be told, he is better at dishing it out than taking it. "For a guy who picks on people, I don't like the attention."
Sure enough, Rickles introduced him and announced, "You can see him at the Olive Garden. He's a waiter."
"I'm sitting there, 'Oh great.' My daughter and her friend were dying," he recalls. From having the tables turned, "I can see how some people could get upset."
Maybe this audience empathy is what tells the man billed as the "Pit Bull of Comedy" when to pull back. Or it could be that Slayton is too busy telling the raw truth about himself to devote all his stage time to the audience.
Slayton is Hooters' entry into ticketed entertainment. The young casino remodeled a former martini bar and signed him up without asking him to "four-wall," or work for ticket revenue with no financial guarantee, as most Las Vegas comedians with ongoing shows do.
It came at a good time. "My year was looking kind of bleak," he says. After years at the top of the club circuit -- but never getting the sitcom or HBO special that would enable the leap to theaters or showrooms -- club managers were starting to say, "Why pay Bobby Slayton when we can get a guy for half?"
But Slayton's sex-and-porn comedy is a perfect fit for Hooters' theme, and the room lends itself to his upscale raunch. The bulk of his act reveals the observational humor of Robert Klein and George Carlin, guys who were more his comedic inspirations than Rickles. It just so happens a lot of the observations are about sex and various ethnic groups.
First he takes the cheap and easy shot -- "Are you Asian or just tired?" -- and muses that being a police sketch artist in Hong Kong is the easiest job in the world (because they all look alike, ya know).
From there it gets more interesting. Slayton proposes the theory that if you bark your mock Chinese long enough, you're bound to accidentally speak a few words of the real thing. And seeing a Chinese man yelling commands to his dog makes him realize, "The dog speaks Chinese! The dog is smarter than me!"
None of this will be confused with Jon Stewart, but it's not Larry the Cable Guy either.
Slayton may be "most unpleasant," says the genteel Rita Rudner -- one of several comedians recruited to roast him in an opening video montage -- but there's a compelling honesty to a man so willing to talk about his own masturbation habits.
Most comedians talk about "my wife" in a generic sense. Slayton's wife and daughter have aged in real time in the nine years since his "Raging Bully" album. This isn't Phyllis Diller talking about Fang. He provides just enough authentic detail to make it more outrageous and shocking when he fantasizes about coming home to find his wife face down in the pool.
"You never tell me about your sexual fantasies," his wife tells him in one bit. "That's because you're not in any of them!" he replies. When his wife finds his porno movie, "The French Maid," she asks, "Is this what turns you on? I'll dress up like a French maid."
"Don't do that," he tells her. "Then I can't watch this movie anymore. ... Why don't you dress up like a Mexican maid and clean the house while I (have sex with) the French maid?"
Inevitably, Slayton is asked offstage how his wife feels about all of this. It's one of the few times he chooses words carefully. "A lot of stuff is fiction, you have to embellish," he says. "And when I met her, I had a lot of these jokes already, about my ex-girlfriend.
"If she's not there, she doesn't care," he adds. "If she's removed from the situation, we don't have a problem." And when she's there, "I never know what's going to upset her and what's not going to upset her."
Which, in a way, isn't so different from any husband and proves his larger point: "It's so universal. I've been doing this so long and talked to more couples than any sex therapist. I've talked to more couples than Dr. Phil."
Like all the best comedy, Slayton gives you a kernel of truth buffered by layers of the ridiculous. The men of Hooters are likely to keep him there, and their women are likely to leave the show thinking that, in comparison, their husbands aren't so bad after all.