Lots of Laughs

Paul Rodriguez figures, "The hardest thing to be right now is a white comedian from Iowa. You’ve got nothing. Everybody can talk about you, but you can’t talk about them."

Perhaps, but Iowa stand-ups know the whole year is in play on the Strip. For Latin-American comedians Rodriguez and Gabriel Iglesias, Mexican Independence Day weekend is still the only sure thing.

Rodriguez, 53, has played Las Vegas since 1981. He has seen his "Latin Kings of Comedy" package tour at Treasure Island today become just one of many Latin-themed choices on the Strip between now and Tuesday’s official holiday.

In the ’80s, Las Vegas offered a couple of showroom bookings by crooners such as Julio Iglesias or Vicente Fernandez. "Non-Latinos would drive by and go, ‘I wonder who that is?’ " Rodriguez says. "Now it’s gotten to the point where any casino will have any Latino they can, because there’s just so many people there."

Rodriguez still might be marginalized on the Strip, but he is proud to point out he will spend Tuesday performing in Japan. And a recent gig in South Africa set a new benchmark in his career: his first ever show without a Latino in the audience, "or a hundred miles for that matter." He is now working on an "International Kings of Comedy" package.

The comedian has seen young breakouts from his tours, such as George Lopez and Carlos Mencia, go on to play Las Vegas in the rest of the year (Lopez returns to the Las Vegas Hilton Nov. 7-8). "Now they’re so big I wish they would take me back. Let me open for them," Rodriguez says. "I have no ego or shame. I’ve got bills and ex-wives."

He predicts one of the acts on his bill today, Manny Maldonado, will be the next name to eclipse him. "I never saw myself as the alpha and the omega of Latino comedy. I knew it was going to grow even bigger," he says. "The only thing I try to do is stay viable and relevant."

Gabriel Iglesias might do his imitation of Rodriguez at the Monte Carlo today and Saturday. ("He sometimes likes it, sometimes doesn’t," Iglesias says of the older comic.) The 32-year-old doesn’t mind the fat jokes — he nicknamed himself "Fluffy" — but tries to avoid being labeled a Latin comedian.

Still, he finds himself booked at the Monte Carlo two consecutive Mexican Independence weekends in a row. "I just think I’m the alternative. Some people don’t want to go hear singing."

And he can’t forget last year, seeing his name compete with perennial stars such as Luis Miguel (at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace today through Tuesday) and Marco Antonio Solis (Saturday at the Palms).

"There’s a little more added pressure, when you’re walking through the casino and you can’t look in any direction without seeing yourself," he says. "Every door’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ had my face on it. The remote control sleeve in the room had my picture on it. Every elevator had me in it."

There also is pressure from family. "Everybody invited themselves. I already dropped the credit card. I think I’m breaking even that week," he says. "They’ll cut you a deal on the first couple of rooms, but after that … ."

But his family also is fair game for his act. Some of Iglesias’ new material talks about becoming a new father — of a 10-year-old — thanks to "hooking up with a girl who had a pre-started family."

"I try to pull whatever’s going on in my life onstage. That way, I’m passionate about what I’m talking about. I’ll tell those stories a lot better," he says. He told his girlfriend, "You realize whatever happens, people are going to find out about it. If you’re ready, let’s do this. If not, this might not be for you."

Iglesias and Rodriguez both perform in English and talk about their lives onstage in now-standard monologue fashion. But Rodriguez, raised in East Los Angeles, realized early in his career just how American that medium was, after venturing into Mexico to perform in Spanish.

"In Mexico and Latin America, they did joke jokes. They would look at me like, ‘What are you doing? You’re not telling jokes.’ They couldn’t understand it."

So he cribbed one-liners from Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman and translated them into Spanish. "The newspapers would go, ‘The kid is fresh, brilliant!’ "

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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