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Las Vegas contest winner has been impersonating Trump for 12 years

It’s “like shooting fish in a barrel,” John Di Domenico says of doing comedy for an audience predisposed to loving him.

He’s not talking about the President Donald Trump impersonator contest he won last month at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles.

Even though Di Domenico had what his alter ego might call a “y-u-u-ge” head start — he’s imitated Trump since 2004 — he says the competition was fierce, and judges including “Saturday Night Live” veteran Darrell Hammond faced a tough decision.

No, Di Domenico is talking about life as a corporate entertainer, versus his former life in comedy clubs.

His appearance on “The View” and other exposure emerging from the contest obscure the fact that Di Domenico didn’t really need to win it. He makes great money (in the $10,000-$15,000 range for a custom 35-minute show and meet-and-greet, he says), and about 75 percent of it comes from performing at corporate meetings, trade shows and conventions. (And for the other 25 percent, he counts voice-over work and television spots on the likes of “Conan,” not just places where folks buy a ticket to see him.)

Di Domenico, 54, moved to Henderson in 2011 but travels 25 to 30 weeks a year entertaining corporate clients. The rest of them come here, to this convention mecca. In their world, he says, “if you’re doing it properly, you should be able to go in and just kill.”

By that he means, “Do your homework, know everything you can about the group, write a killer script and then go in and knock it out of the park,” he says. “My mantra is this is not about me, it’s about them. I’m there to entertain that group.”

Limo life

Di Domenico remembers his first corporate gig in 1997. The Philadelphia native was versed in sketch comedy and stand-up — Trump is one of some 20 costumed impressions he does — but “driving all over the Northeast doing comedy, getting 50 bucks here, a hundred bucks there.”

Life on the road “was just kind of brutal. It was insanely lonely.”

But then a company flew him in for a gig, “and for the first time in my life someone was at the airport with my name written out (for the limo).” Then they rang his nice hotel room and asked if he had time to attend the “production meeting.”

Production meeting? Huh? It turned out to be people with Broadway credits wanting to light him properly. It wasn’t long before he decided, “This is what I want to do. I want to be in a nice hotel, getting paid well and doing comedy in front of a great audience.”

“It took me about three years to figure it out, how to get in. But then I just made the shift,” he says. “It’s been great, because it has kind of insulated me from the ups and downs of being a regular actor. The corporate world is always having to do a meeting.”

Honest laugh

The late impressionist Danny Gans was Las Vegas’ prime example of an entertainer who was cleaning up on the corporate circuit but crossed over to start anew as a ticketed act on the Strip.

“You can be the biggest star in the corporate world, but it doesn’t translate over to anything else,” Di Domenico explains.

Di Domenico is friends with juggler Jeff Civillico, the best current example of an entertainer bent on conquering both worlds.

Why do they bother?

“It’s important as a performer not to be shooting fish in a barrel,” Di Domenico says. “You want to get in front of a real audience, (one) that’s totally diverse.”

Earning a laugh from a comedy club audience that paid for tickets is “like a heroin rush,” he says. “There’s no group think. You’ve got to turn an audience around. A very disparate audience.”

That’s why Di Domenico didn’t think twice about entering the Trump contest at his own expense. The winner was promised the hosting job for a Laugh Factory webcast called “Real News/Fake News” and a chance to perform live in Laugh Factory clubs, including the one at the Tropicana.

He dreams of opening a show as Trump, then quickly removing his $4,000 wig and scrubbing off the orange makeup he spent an hour to apply while the other stand-ups do their set, then coming out again to show off his own bald pate.

That’s right. Di Domenico won a Donald Trump impersonator contest for a chance to be himself.

“No one knows who I am,” he says. “No one knows my sensibilities.”

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

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