If you came here for the gory details after reading today’s column about Danny Gans’ book, here’s the closer look at Chapter 34, “After Further Review …” If you’re seeing this first, best to go back and read the column.
I didn’t have room for the details, which if sloppy co-author R.G. Ryan had bothered to ask me about, might have kept the chapter out of the book to begin with.
To set this up, it’s important to know that my friend and former colleague Mike Paskevich was an early supporter of Gans, and championed his 1996 breakthrough at the Stratosphere. In the book, Gans is rightfully grateful — even if Ryan doesn’t manage to spell Paskevich’s name right.
When Paskevich left in 2000 and I took over with a less-enthusiastic attitude and more subdued reviews, it was a change Gans and his manager Chip Lightman never seemed to get over:
Chip called me one day and told me that Mike Paskovich (sic) was leaving the paper because he wanted to write books. A new critic had been hired and was going to re-review all of the shows on the Strip so the published reviews could reflect his opinion.
At that time, my show at the Rio was so successful they were knocking walls down trying to create more seating. We learned that the new critic was going to write an article on all the current headliners before he wrote the actual reviews and that he wanted to meet me and ask some questions.
Chip set up the meeting in the showroom at the Rio, so I found a table and sat down to wait. It was very noisy because a bartender across the room was mixing something in a blender. Chip brought the new critic over to my table and said, “I’ll ask the bartender to turn that thing off while you guys are talking.”
Chip walked away and with no introduction the new guy began, “First of all, I’m not your friend Michael Paskovich … and second of all, I’m not a fan of what you do. I consider impressionists one step above ventriloquists on the entertainment food chain.”
I was dumbstruck and didn’t say anything, because I thought maybe he just had a weird sense of humor and there was a punch line coming.
Wow. Where do I begin? Honestly, I don’t recall ever meeting Gans before an interview at The Mirage for a story published March 31, 2000. I didn’t even see his show at the Rio or the Stratosphere.
I do know this meeting at the Rio never took place. Gans performed his last show there on Dec. 23, 1999. Paskevich didn’t leave the Review-Journal until late February of 2000, so I wouldn’t have had the time or inclination to go talk to Gans at the Rio.
The line about impressionists and ventriloquists? Wouldn’t be a good ice-breaker for a first interview, I don’t think. But it might have been a twist on something I wrote later in some other context, because I didn’t disagree with the sentiment. At least until Gans, Terry Fator and Jeff Dunham had the last laugh.
Instead he said, “I just came from the adult entertainment convention. Have you seen that?”
“No, it’s not really my thing.”
“Oh, well I thought you’d be using some of that stuff in your show — you know, bring out some topless dancers or something — because you’ll probably be getting a lot of those people coming to see you.”
“This is a PG-rated show for more of a family-type audience.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen what you do,” he replied. “But I thought that maybe you’d want to personalize it for them, you know, do some adult humor.”
He went on to ask me a few random questions for the article and the interview was over.
This one is a real head-scratcher. I’d like to think I’d done enough pre-interview homework to know Gans was a born-again Christian. (The resulting feature talks about his Christian music album.) And knowing that should have made it more clear any such comment was a joke.
I do remember making small talk on The Mirage sidewalk while we waited for the photographer to set up for a Neon cover shoot. Maybe sidewalk porn pamphleteers provoked a wisecrack. As Gans noted earlier, I have a “weird” sense of humor. But it was March and the porn convention is in January, during the Consumer Electronics Show. I didn’t cover it that year.
Funny enough, impressionist Bill Acosta did open a show featuring topless showgirls. But that was several months later, so we couldn’t have been talking about Acosta then.
The sad thing is, Ryan said Gans really did remember it this way. “I recall very distinctly when he was talking about this, it’s not like he was animated (or) angry. It was just like, ‘Let me give you a for instance of things that hurt me.’ ”
Some time later I opened at the Mirage this same critic called and wanted to have an interview before he saw the show, so we invited him into my dressing room.
The show was opening on a Tuesday, but the preceding Saturday I was doing an “invited guests only” show for Elaine Wynn and her charity. It was great for us, because it afforded us the opportunity to give back to the community and to try out some of the new material
with a live audience before we opened to the public.
We had the interview, which consisted primarily of generic questions, and when we were wrapping it up, I asked if he would give me a couple of weeks to tweak the show before he wrote his review. In reply, he told me he’d received an invitation to attend the show on
I said, “That’s a private charity function.”
“Well, I got an invitation and I’m thinking about coming.”
I asked him not to come because it was going to be the first time on that stage in front of an audience. With the amount of material tailored especially for Elaine Wynn and her guests, it wouldn’t be a true representation of the new show.
He stood up, shook my hand, and looked me straight in the eye.
“You have my word that I won’t review the show. I’ll give you a couple of weeks to get things tweaked and then I’ll come back.”
We did the show, and a few days later I opened the paper … and there it was, his review. Stunned doesn’t come close to describing the way I felt. More like betrayed, because the man had looked me in the eye and promised he wouldn’t print it. It was the first time in my career that someone had outright lied to me.
As noted in the column, this was my fuzziest memory. Only after reading this do I remember any debate at all about when to review the show and how different it would be from the usual act (not much, as I recall). I don’t recall the handshake promise at all and have to believe I would have a stronger memory if I made such a promise.
Today, it would all be clearly established in advance who is reviewing and when. But there was no official "press night" for The Mirage show that I remember, and not for the Encore opening in February either. But this much is clear: They knew I was there. It was an invitation-only event. No way I could just buy a ticket. I still think they had agreed to the review plan in advance or I wouldn’t have been there at all.
Again, it’s sad that Gans remembered it this way. “I don’t know anything about that other than what he reported to me,” Ryan said. “But he said, ‘That just really bothered me.’ ”