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‘We’ll be back’: Tropicana Laugh Factory closes with fun, sadness

Updated April 2, 2024 - 6:55 pm

Club operator and accomplished stand-up Harry Basil is seated in the Rodney’s Place VIP booth at Laugh Factory at the Trop. The seating platform has for a decade served as a tribute to comedy legend Rodney Dangerfield.

But the space is soon to be dismantled. The framed posters to be yanked from the wall, at least those that haven’t been pilfered already. The life-size, bug-eyed Dangerfield statue, which seemed to greet all guests at the club, is being dragged away.

Basil says this isn’t the end of the Laugh Factory in Las Vegas, just at the Trop.

“We are going to open somewhere else. We are in talks with four major properties on the Strip,” Basil says, then conjures a line from Arnold Schwarzenegger, but in his own voice, “We’ll be back.”

Look for a definitive destination by mid-May.

As the “Last Laughs at the Trop” show plays out, the popular comedy pro recalls when Dangerfield ran the club for six action-packed months spanning 1988-‘89. Dangerfield was developing the “Opening Night At Rodney’s Place” HBO special, to celebrate the opening of his club at Tropicana.

Dangerfield had asked Basil to perform as “The Movie Guy,” in which Basil re-creates comic adaptations of popular films, including “Jaws,” “Terminator,” “Ghostbusters” and “Superman.” Dangerfield was all-in, offering to pay $150,000 for the rights to use movies’ music in the cable special.

Basil was excited to appear on HBO, but told Dangerfield he had a strong relationship with Mitzi Shore at The Comedy Store, which had just opened a club at the Dunes. Dangerfield said he’d call Shore to clear the path for “The Movie Guy.”

Dangerfield never heard back, as the story goes. Basil balked at the offer. The special aired with appearances from Sam Kinison, Rich Little — who also just closed at Laugh Factory — rising star Jeff Foxworthy and pre-“Home Improvement” Tim Allen, among others.

“I wanted to be on, and it would have been a really big deal,” says Basil, who would later come very close to Dangerfield, personally and professionally. “But I just couldn’t without Mitzi’s blessing.”

The Laugh Factory would become Bob Kephart’s Comedy Stop at the Trop for nearly two decades beginning in 1990. Veteran producer Anthony Cools ran a “Penny Lane” Beatles show, and stand-up and Bobby Slayton appeared exclusively in the venue for about a year.

Brad Garrett took over in 2010 and moved to MGM Grand two years later. Jamie Masada and Basil then nabbed the space in 2012. It has been a hot comedy venue since, featuring such headliners as Louie Anderson, Dice Clay, Sammy and Pauly Shore, Jon Lovitz, pre-sitcom cancellation Roseanne and Gallagher.

The late Carl Labove led the reunited “Outlaws of Comedy” into the club. LaBove’s family was in the club, at his VIP tribute booth (Basil gifted the group the honorary Carl LaBove Table).

That Basil is among the last comic standing in this space is only appropriate, for his history in keeping it alive and relevant. Basil came back with “The Movie Guy” routine at Sunday night’s two closing shows. The 64-year-old performer was like a big kid, flying as Superman with an audience member stretched across a stool, and reviving his devastating Schwarzenegger impression in a full-muscle suit.

For the final weekend, Basil also summoned Gary Cannon and ace comics Dom Irrera, Mike Saccone and Ron Pearson. Saccone has headlined the venue in every iteration dating to the Dangerfield days. Pearson was a headliner on opening night in May 2012. The 76-year-old Irrera, batting Parkinson’s disease, continues to appear in Vegas and also Laugh Factory in L.A. That lineup, and social-media wizard Concrete at 7 p.m., shut down live entertainment forever at the Trop.

Cannon is on-point with Trop-centered material. “I got a great rate at the hotel, $13,” he says, “but with the resort fee it’s $749.” Cannon also says, “They’re demolishing this place soon, but it’s been on its way out for 25 years.”

Saccone is dressed in a tux for the first time ever on stage, summoning the Rat Pack vibe for the finale. “They had a decision to make. We can either clean the carpets, or tear this (expletive) joint down,” Saccone says. “You’ve seen the carpets. It would cost way too much to have them cleaned.”

Saccone becomes serious at the end of his set, telling the crowd he became a stand-up at age 20 because his father loved such Vegas comics as Don Rickles and Shecky Greene. His dad died when Mike was 12 years old.

“When I get to heaven and I see him, he’ll ask me, ‘Well what did you do, Son?’ I’ll tell him, ‘I became a stand-up comedian.’ He’ll ask, ‘Did you play Vegas?’ And I’ll say, ‘For 35 years, Pop.” With that, the red light flashed.

Your VegasVille Moment

Several members of the team at Laugh Factory will move on with Basil. The congenial door staff of Jorge Ruiz, Bob Wade, Steve Henmen and Washington Blanco are all expected to move with the club to its new location. The marketing director for a dozen years, LuAnn Terrell is along for the ride. We’ll be there, alongside Basil’s wife, Lauren, with whom I’ve shared a lotta laughs in the Rodney booth.

This team deserves a medal just for weathering the Gallagher era. The comic just never seemed to leave the property. “He was great, but he drove us nuts,” Basil says. “He would not leave the green room until midnight after the second show, and all he did was give notes to the other comedians and tole them what was wrong with their acts, whether they wanted the notes or not.”

But some are calling it a career. Barkeep Pat Stubson has ended her run at the venue. She started in the summer of 1978 as a cocktail waitress. We met in about 2007 at Tropicana Lounge (I won a $2,000 video poker jackpot with Pat behind the bar on one memorable night; we celebrated by dancing to Skye Dee Miles’ band).

“It hasn’t hit yet,” Stubson says, as she hugs it out with the Laugh Factory staff. “There is so much to do, and so many people to say goodbye to.”

Cool Hang Alert

Live music in Mermaid Lounge at Silverton is on from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The series is dubbed “Mermaid Lounge Live!” with acoustic tunes from an array of Vegas artists. No cover, must by 21-over. It’s a fine time, and a fin time, go to Silvertoncasino.com for intel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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