Masada sees Trop as top spot for laughs

Jamie Masada hopes to give the Tropicana a funny new identity, and it goes without saying the hotel is counting on him to bring some brand consistency as well.

On Monday, Masada’s Los Angeles comedy club institution, The Laugh Factory, opened in the Tropicana room long occupied by The Comedy Stop and more recently by Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club.

But Masada has a long-range vision of the Tropicana as a place where “we have a joke of the day put under your door,” as well as jokey valet parkers, comedy memorabilia and Laugh Factory-branded TV productions such as “Supreme Court of Comedy” filming in its showroom.

“You don’t have a hotel in Las Vegas that really specializes in bring(ing) a smile to people’s face,” Masada says of how he explained his concept of a new hotel image to resort President Alex Yemenidjian.

The Tropicana’s big showroom also steps up a notch Friday with the launch of a live spinoff of the TV smash “Dancing with the Stars.”

Both new shows give the Trop’s entertainment the potential to catch up with the upgrades of the rest of the property, after several misfires or disappointments that included classic Vegas entertainers Wayne Newton and Gladys Knight.

Though Recycled Percussion has been successful enough to extend an extra six months in the main showroom, other ideas — such as the mercifully short-lived “iCandy Burlesque” lounge revue — came and went with a succession of hotel executives, most recently Entertainment Vice President Melissa Steinberg.

It’s easy to understand why the Trop would go out of its way to land the live version of “Dancing,” which received invaluable product placement with a segment on the ABC broadcast Tuesday.

“From the very, very top here at the Tropicana, there’s just been an attitude of, ‘Whatever you need, whatever it takes, we’ll help you make it happen,’ ” says Richard Halliwell, who manages the “Dancing” brand for its owner, BBC Worldwide. “This has not been about us agreeing a rate, agreeing a price. … This has not been about the deal.”

The Laugh Factory gets a late start in the market, competing with comedy rooms such as Garrett’s handsome new venue across the street at the MGM Grand. But the Factory has built name recognition in Hollywood since Masada opened it as a teenager in 1979, booking Richard Pryor as his first headliner.

Masada now operates four Laugh Factory locations, and says he was courted to open a Las Vegas room as long ago as when The Comedy Store vacated the Dunes. But now he says he is lured by the potential of going beyond the basic comedy club to have a larger footprint in the hotel.

“Everybody has a club,” he says of Las Vegas’ many comedy operations. “But comedians don’t have a home that really respects their profession.”

Masada promises unbilled drop-ins by big-ticket comedians as well as top club headliners and lesser-known comics. “I want to mix both of them together,” he says. “In 33 years I know them all.” He also says he never insisted on exclusivity in Los Angeles and won’t hold comics to any such rules in Las Vegas either. …

Guns N’ Roses and the Beastie Boys might crowd 78-year-old Joe D’Ambrosio to the back of the limelight, but that doesn’t make the Las Vegas saxophonist any less happy to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday.

D’Ambrosio was part of Bill Haley’s Comets, and his sax is heard on the pioneering rock records “Rock Around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Haley was inducted to the Cleveland museum way back in 1987, but the band was technically excluded.

“They finally got around to saying … ‘The band’s back there too,’ ” D’Ambrosio explains. Saturday’s ceremony also will make amends to other backing bands of previous inductees, including Buddy Holly’s Crickets, Hank Ballard’s Midnighters and James Brown’s Famous Flames.

Of 10 Comets inducted, only D’Ambrosio and Dick Richards still perform. They will be joined in Cleveland by a third surviving member, Marshall Lytle.

D’Ambrosio has lived in Las Vegas since 1972, but on Tuesday opens a residency in Branson, Mo., that will keep him there until August. …

My February review of the Rio’s “2 Kings” had no quibbles with Michael Jackson impersonator Ice (Chris Gardner) or with Charlie Franks as Elvis. But I still found it to be a dreary affair, thanks to a cramped little stage and karaoke tracks.

Encouraging news then that on May 1, the show moves out of the little King’s Room and next door to the Crown Theatre, the Rio’s larger showroom. The 5:30 p.m. tribute show will still be sung to track, but will have live backup singers and dancers and props to fill the larger stage. Impressionist Bethany Owen will stay put in the smaller venue with her 2:30 p.m. show. …

Soulful singer Michael Grimm returns to the place it all started for him, Green Valley Ranch, when he launches a weekly Saturday night residency April 21. The 8 p.m. shows carry a $5 cover.

Grimm played the same Ovation venue, as well as the casino’s steakhouse, before he won “America’s Got Talent” in 2010. That led to a major-label album produced by Don Was, an opening act slot on a Stevie Nicks tour and a brief run at the Flamingo last December.

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

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