Joe Trammel channels ‘Rocky’ for Vegas comeback

The scene was something “like a movie,” Joe Trammel says, but not one of the movies he made a living out of spoofing.

Trammel was “on crutches, knee-deep in snow” in Maine when he fielded a call from Las Vegas.

The producers of “Comedy & Dolls” were asking if he was ready to do his act again. Trammel had snapped his thigh bone in half in an October accident and was still in physical therapy when they asked if he might be ready to perform in a month.

“Everything’s great,” he remembers telling them. “Never let ’em see you sweat, right?”

Except that Trammel’s act was all about letting ’em see the sweat.

Trammel is one of those unsung Las Vegas stars you probably don’t know by name. But if you’ve attended a Las Vegas variety show in the past 25 years, there’s a statistically high chance you’ve seen him.

From “Splash” to “V — The Ultimate Variety Show,” Trammel was that guy who bombarded you with sight gags by dancing and doing quick costume transformations to snippets of music.

People go from “What the …?” to laughing at the juxtapositions, caving in to the silliness of it all and applauding the sheer effort of a guy who strips down to bikini briefs and displays more skin than many of his showgirl costars.

Comedian Nancy Ryan came up with a tagline in an “X Comedy” introduction: “The King of Pop Culture.” Anyone from Michael Jackson to Batman to “Riverdance” to “Phantom of the Opera” to Caitlyn Jenner can become punch lines for his prop comedy.

But one bit has been in the act since the earliest days: “Rocky.” “My favorite movie of all time,” Trammel says. In thousands of shows, he cracked and drank raw eggs, flaunted the patriotic shorts, did the one-arm push-ups.

Trammel’s career had underdog “Rocky” parallels as well. Getting back on stage now makes him feel more like Rocky Balboa than ever. “Just to get through the 15 rounds was winning, right? As long as you’re still standing.”

Dancing fool

Trammel’s act makes sense if you know his background. His fluid movement comes from a mom who ran a Phoenix-area dance studio. When break dancing became a fad in 1984, the teen Joe declared himself an expert and started teaching break-dance classes at Trammel Dance Studio.

“I didn’t even know how to do all of it yet,” he says with a laugh.

When lip-sync contests became a thing in bars, Trammel would fly to California just to win them. Most people just used one song. But Trammel already was cutting and splicing for comic effect.

Finally, he learned how to work his pliable, silent-movie comedy face from a veteran vaudeville team while dancing in the “Sugar Daddies” revue in Reno while still a high-school student in 1986.

Trammel made his Las Vegas debut in “Splash” in the early ’90s. By 2002, he was so busy, he had two sets of props. He would do the early “V” show, jump in his car, drive to the Riviera to do “Crazy Girls” and then drive back to The Venetian for the second “V.”

In 2005, he got a taste of national exposure on the E! reality contest “The Entertainer,” where Wayne Newton was an “Apprentice”-style mentor.

Through all this, “I never went on vacations. Even when I switched shows, it was never like I had a month off.” The Vegas life caught up to him. “I burned out a little bit. I needed a break,” he says of retreating to Maine with his wife, Jessica, in 2013. He realized, “It really helped me grow.”

But on Oct. 8, he did a one-off show in an Auburn nightclub. “Great show, great night, energy’s pumpin’. I jumped off the stage and start dancing with my wife.

“She did one of those ballroom-dance straddle things,” leaping up on him. “We’ve done it a million times, and she weighs all of 95 pounds.” But this time, “when she jumped up, there was a puddle. Somebody had spilled a drink or something.” When he stepped back to catch her, he stepped right into it. “My leg literally just snapped in half. It just snapped like a twig.”

Gonna eat lightnin’

When “Comedy & Dolls” producer Pete Housley called, Trammel again channeled his movie hero: “It was like a bell went off. I almost felt like Rocky. ‘We’re gonna do this.’ ”

Doctors told him it was irresponsible, maybe impossible, and that he needed a full year. But he also saw “Bleed for This,” about boxer Vinny Paz’s recovery from a broken neck. “If he can do that, I can do this. I just started recovering quicker and quicker.”

He started writing a memoir while he was laid up, just to give him something to focus on. “I started thinking, ‘I need an ending to this book.’ ”

He figured, “I’m either going to fall off the stage or it’s going to be a success.” Though he still walks with a limp and sometimes with a cane, he’s done the show for two weeks without falling. “Now I feel like I got the ending,” he says.

Contact Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

Entertainment
Celebrate Margarita Day With The Hot Damn Margarita
Celebrate Margarita Day With The Hot Damn Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Yard House margarita changes color in the glass
The cocktail, as made by lead bartender Taylor Cole at Town Square in Las Vegas, changes from deep blue to magenta because of a chemical reaction between its butterfly pea flowers and citrus agave. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Black History Month Festival
Las Vegas residents gathered on Saturday, February 16, 2019, at Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd, to celebrate Black History Month. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
You Can Design With 3D Printers, Laser Cutters And Ceramics At Discovery Children's Museum
You Can Design With 3d Printers, Laser Cutters And Ceramics At Discovery Children's Museum (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Champagne vending machine at Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas
One of only a few in the country, the Moët & Chandon machine at the Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas is stocked with Imperial Rose for Valentine’s Day. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas Valentine’s Day desserts
Mio Ogasawara of Sweets Raku and Rebecca Bills of Gen3 Hospitality in Las Vegas create elaborate Valentine’s Day desserts. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
One Night For One Drop
Cirque du Soleil cast and crew donate their time and talent to this year's "One Night For One Drop" performance at the "O" Theatre in the Bellagio. The event takes place March 8, 2019, and benefits the One Drop organization. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Chinese New Year Parade
Chinese New Year parade takes place on Fremont Street. (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Manzo restaurant a key part of Eataly
Nicole Brisson, executive chef of Eataly, at Park MGM in Las Vegas, talks about new restaurant.
Designer Makes Festival-style Crowns
Designer at MAGIC trade show Makes Festival-style Crowns (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Excalibur Raises tent that will house "Fuerza Bruta" show
Workers at Excalibur raised a tent, which will be the home of "Fuerza Bruta," a temporary show that will run from March 7 to September 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roc Boots Make For Glittery Festival Wear
With 3-inch-tall chunky heels, cleated platforms, and sparkly glitter, you’ll want to wear these to dance the night away. Sally Cull, product and development for Roc Boots Australia, assures you that you can. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get A Custom-painted Jacket At Las Vegas Fashion Event
On the first of the two-night Commotion event, clothing brands connected with consumers, offering shopping, giveaways and customization opportunities. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Venetian Celebrates The "Year Of The Pig"
The Venetian hosted dancers to celebrate the Chinese New Year and "Year of the Pig." The dancers performed a traditional eye-dotting ceremony and lion dance. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Pepe the truffle-hunting dog
Jose Andres knows that quality black truffles can also be found in his native Spain. He’ll be sharing some with the world for a week, starting Monday. From Feb. 11-17, his Cosmopolitan restaurant Jaleo will be showcasing four special dishes made with Spanish truffles discovered by the truffle-hunting dogs of his friend Nacho Ramírez Monfort. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tony Abou-Ganim mixes drink at Libertine Social
Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist, helped change the cocktail culture in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masaharu Morimoto talks ramen in Las Vegas
Masaharu Morimoto talks about bringing a ramen restaurant to Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Morimoto considering full-time Las Vegas ramen spot
Morimoto talks about a full-time ramen spot in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to new home at Neon Museum Boneyard
The famous and newly restored, Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign is working it's way to a permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to Neon Museum Boneyard
The famous and newly restored, Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign has been moved to its permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to new Las Vegas home
The famous and newly restored Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign has moved to a permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas band Otherwise release song and video in tribute to slain cousin
Adrian and Ryan Patrick, brothers in the band Otherwise with drummer Brian Medeiros, talk about the release of a tribute song to their deceased cousin Ivan. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Las Vegas residency
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Vegas residency (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES final night showcases Drake at XS Nightclub
Drake performed for CES attendees and club-goers at XS Nightclub in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Happy Hour party at Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace
Conventioneers mingled during the Hardware Massive CES 2019 Happy Hour Bash at The Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2019 Has A Cordless Hair Dryer
CES Has A Cordless Hair Dryer (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Panel talks Impossible Burger 2.0
Panel talks Impossible Burger at CES during launch at Border Grill on Monday, Jan. 7. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing