Updated January 4, 2021 - 12:49 pm
Sam Wills is adding a lot of talk to the tape.
Wills portrays our favorite comic mime, Tape Face. He and his team continue to work effectively through COVID restrictions at Harrah’s Showroom. The 50-capacity crowd is set distantly behind the 100 mannequins he has filling the Entertainment Moat in the section in front of the stage.
It’s an odd scene, keeping with the character’s slogan, “Stay Weird,” and when Brad Garrett saw a photo of all those heads, he said, “It’s just the end of the friggin’ world.”
But you have to laugh at the masked figure wearing a Guns N’ Roses tour shirt; long, black wig and blue-paper face mask. Another figure looks like a veteran Vegas lounge performer who shall remain nameless.
The show opens with a lengthy, spoken monologue and some Q&A by Wills, Tape Face’s creator. Wills winds the crowd through Tape Face’s history. He was onstage playing the non-verbal character in his usual act, but could not resist speaking. A fellow comic suggested Wills pull gaffer tape over his mouth. It worked. The Tape Face character appeared in short segments until growing into an entity of its own.
In today’s pandemic protocols, you arrive at Harrah’s Showroom at an assigned, color-coded seating time to obey COVID requirements. It means you’re in the theater for about an hour (including the pre-show presentation co-starring Christina Balonek as Phyllis Vanillis) before Tape Face actually begins his act.
The strategy is akin to seeing two performances in a single sitting. Fans who expecting to see the non-verbal character right out of the gate might grow impatient. I checked my watch during a show last week, wondering when the Tape Face performance would actually start.
Guest magician Christopher Tallada has been performing briefly in each performance, a crisp 30 seconds per show. Tyler Reed hosts. The narrator, a robed geezer named Harry Harrahs (played by Rob Ferries), talks continually from a seated position on stage left, yammering through Tape Face’s otherwise non-verbal routines.
The effect is like sitting next to someone who has seen Tape Face before, and provides play-by-play of what we’re watching, including the routine where the comic attempts to knock an apple off the head of a baby doll. The intended effect seems to be that Harrahs is just being a pain. If so, it works. The side character is yet another example of Wills invoking a spoken component to the show.
And Wills can easily perform an entire show verbally, and turns in some funny talking moments. Early in the performance, he recalls his appearances on “America’s Got Talent,” when he threw a plunger at a toilet seat placed around the neck of celebrity judge Mel B.
As the comic said, the recording star found the bit inherently unfunny and could be heard shouting at the crew about being asked to wear a toilet seat onstage (“This is not how you treat a Spice Girl,” as Wills informed).
Wills noted that judge Simon Cowell was supposed to be selected that routine. But the executive producer and celeb judge sent word though the production on the day of Tape Face’s performance saying no act would be allowed to pull him onstage.
To this moment, Tape Face is convinced a member of the crew tipped Cowell off and saved him the embarrassment of appearing in the show with a toilet seat around his neck. That image would be a meme for the ages, and a great talking point.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.