When I'm in Las Vegas, I like to torture myself with the entertainment, because I'm not much of a gambler. To truly gamble, you have to get a big-wave-wipeout thrill from losing; I just get sad and darkly nauseated if I stick $60 into a slot machine and it doesn't give me anything back. I do have an astonishingly high tolerance for the worst types of theater, however, and will often pay top dollar for a long, slow squirm that would cause most people to feign an aneurysm to escape.
I get a great thrill out of the isolated, schizophrenic weirdness of Las Vegas as Vegas and how it has devolved and grown baroquely inward into its own dementia, building elaborate castles out of its own wacked-out socioeconomic feces. I love to walk through Caesars Palace and see that there is a legitimate "pornography convention," filled with lurid, toothy blond freaks of sexual entertainment with 58KK breast implants the size of watermelons clad in rubber hologram pantsuits, calmly talking to the local news about sales and marketing. I love the 68-year-old cocktail waitresses in their artificial braided hair-cones, their macrami networks of varicose veins and the way the fat from their shoulder blades hangs over the back of their strapless mini-togas.
I love the whole idea of topless showgirls in preposterous chandelier hats, which is why I made my friends come with me to see "Splash" at the Riviera. "Splash" seems to be the last of the great Vegas multi-pronged variety horrors: topless choreographed hat slags, underwater mermaids, motorcycle stunts and lip-synching pop imitators. An extravaganza! With tits!
Sure enough, as soon as the curtains parted, there were two topless ladies in sequined aquatic G-strings lesbianically gyrating in a murky water tank, and topless showgirls in makeup so exaggerated they looked like over-sexed rodeo clowns, doing their strange ostrich prances up and down small flights of stairs without moving their heads or necks. Out of the approximately 20 women on the stage, exactly two sets of breasts were real, the others strangely pneumatic, tinted and professional looking, like sports equipment.
The best part of the whole show was the death-defying motorcycle stunt, wherein four guys in leather jumpsuits and pancake makeup riding minibikes drove inside of a relatively tiny, stationary 14-foot-diameter mesh metal ball and chased each other around and around upside down and sideways - super fast like mosquitoes in a light bulb. It was fantastic, it really gave you the sense that you were about to see a horrible accident, live.
The Michael Jackson lip-syncher was talc-covered and contour-pencilled to look as freakishly kabuki as the real thing; the Janet Jackson double had various adhesive dreadlock formations that made her head look like an ornamental cast-iron fence. There was an especially unbelievable "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" number during which an epileptically wiggling Madonna-cum-Evita Peron in ice-blue Cleopatra eye makeup repeatedly threw her skirt over her head to reveal her black thong. But all in all, the pop-icon impersonators are the lowest, most pitiable link on the Vegas entertainment food chain. The saddest thing was seeing "Oliver," the lovely brown dancing boy -- best known for being one of the real Madonna's back-up dancers and having an affair with her on one of her concert tours -- dancing alongside the fake Vegas Madonna, ostensibly pretending to be his former self.
The show lost focus midway through and degenerated rapidly into chaos and pain; suddenly there were abused parrots clawing out of people's tuxedo pants and some God-forsaken Tijuana juggling act; three block-torsoed Mexicans in sequined argyle tunics, doing the three cigar boxes covered with metallic tape and high-speed sombrero exchange act, for what seemed like five days. They kept making the audience scream, "Oli!" All I could think about was going back to the Peppermill to buy an oversized salt and pepper set; blunt weapons of culinary fortitude. Something large and wooden and useful to offset the dark, flimsy approximation of fantasy and fun we were suffering through.
The next night, driven by some retrograde need, I went out of my way to see "Dr. Naughty, The World's Foremost X-Rated Comic Hypnotist," as advertised on the marquee of the deeply outclassed Bourbon Street Casino, one of the aged eyesores on the strip that seemingly can only maintain functioning casino status by catering to the cheapest cocktail compulsions of cirrhosis-level alcoholics. I couldn't resist the lowbrow ad copy and the critical recommendations on Dr. Naughty's flyer: "'We all laughed till our belly's hurt!' -- Jimmi S., Los Angeles."
The "Comedy Theater" at Bourbon Street was a small, low-ceilinged seminar room wrought in wood paneling with plastic chairs and a hovering band of non-circulating cigarette smoke at face level. I read the cardboard triangle on our tiny table with gusto:
Dr. X-Rated Drink Specials!
$3 each or 2 for $5
Blow Job: Peppermint Schnapps, Baileys, Whipped Cream
Buttery Nipple: Butterscotch, Baileys
Sperm Count: Peppermint, Baileys
Why, I wondered, do all "X-Rated" cocktails contain Baileys? Is it the fat and sugar content or the effluvial consistency? I ended up ordering a $3 top-shelf vodka, which they assassinated with aluminum-flavored grapefruit concentrate.
Nobody in the Dr. Naughty audience had their own hair, including a hard-faced 22-year-old platinum blond Dolly Parton number in a see-through fuchsia tube dress, obviously on the Dr. Naughty payroll, who jiggled around the front row whispering to elect audience members, and Dr. Naughty's pathetic warm-up worm, "Dr. Nice," a toadying subordinate and apprentice to the diabolical Dr. Naughty, who explained the complicated procedure of X-rated comic hypnosis with all the fun and irreverence of a trigonometry lecture.
Dr. Naughty finally emerged in a blast of house music to light applause, looking like a reanimated Wolfman Jack if the Wolfman corpse had been preserved in an urn full of nail-polish remover; he looked red, chafed and flaky; his thin web of tinted hair was spray-mounted into a pomp-crest, half of his satanic beard was drawn on in cosmetic crayon. There were only about 19 people in the audience; since "Paris," the new theme casino where all the valet attendants shout, "Bone Swar! and "Bone Chonce!" in an attempt to greet visitors in "French," was opening that night, the Bad Doctor was relegated to second-class dog-act status in town.
"Where the fuck is my audience?" whined Dr. Naughty. "I'm in every fucking magazine in Las Vegas. Every fucking magazine. No fucking audience. You see, ladies and gentlemen, the audience is really the whole fucking show. I have no fucking talent, and I've been doing this act for 31 fucking years. I'm a fucking loser. Would any of you like to come back tomorrow night?"
That did it for me: I believed him. I walked out, back to the ticket desk, where "Pansy" was working, a 60-something Christian type with a firmly structured silvery permanent who had become accustomed to life among the truly drunk without sunlight or windows, always smelling like wet carpet and cigarettes. "I'd like my money back, please."
"But WHYYYYYY?" wailed Pansy.
"He sucks. He's awful. He just told us he had 'no fucking talent.'"
"Noooooo! Stay and watch. He's really great, it's a great show ..."
"He's abysmal! I demand a full refund!" I raised my voice a little, and the Dolly Parton bint peeked out from the curtain to the backstage, her black tarantula-lashed eyes wide in alarm. I suddenly realized that the walls to the stage were paper thin, and I was probably audible to the third row.
"Well you don't have to be so insulting!" huffed Pansy, genuinely wounded.
Pansy obviously was deeply in love with Dr. Naughty. He had cast his special X-rated spell on her; she was his wanton pawn, his succubus. She put the money back on my credit card, waiting palpably for an apology from me that never came.
The Vegas airport is dominated by photo billboards of a lipless white man, smiling with the ugly tang of smug, gamy showmanship in his eye. This man is Danny Gans, and he is absolutely famous in the waterless oasis of Vegas and nowhere else in the universe. Billed as "The Man of Many Voices," he couldn't have better word-of-mouth in town; Laotian cab drivers, unsolicited, gush over him. At poolside, fat, mustachioed and wealthy Texas drunks will go out of their way to sing his praises, apropos of nothing. He is called "incredible." He is actually, we discovered, the most hateful human being ever to have a dog-like and hooting audience full of tasteless, beer-powered, sentimental bigot Dipshits for Jesus.
Danny Gans is human filth. His show contained some of the worst, most militantly puerile, good ol' boy racist and homophobic hack material I have ever heard, not to mention the most seamlessly unidentifiable and all-alike-sounding group of vocal impressions ever assembled by a single venal abortion of a performer. I wanted to vomit badly through the entire gig, particularly when Gans had his cloying Heartfelt Moments. His bad George Burns rasped something about how "you're always young, especially when you're young at heart," and the audience clapped wildly with a lump in their throat and said, "Awww."
Gans had Jimmy Stewart in heaven singing that insipid "Rainbow Connection" song with Kermit the Frog, then topped it off with Jimmy cocking his head and croaking, "Y'know? I had a Wonderful Life." The audience went up in another inferno of bald-faced drunk sentimental mewling. I couldn't believe it. I think Danny Gans is to entertainment what smallpox was to the American Indians, and he should be exiled immediately to Branson, Mo., and given a Baptist-Republican radio program, but he is frighteningly unstoppable; the man is going to own Las Vegas.
Gans is even scheduled to replace Siegfried and Roy in their supposedly unassailable position at the Mirage. I could just imagine the inconsolable Siegfried and Roy screaming and death-yowling when that announcement came down the corporate pike; the terrible weepy phone calls to Germany, the hacking of leather couches with big jeweled scimitars, the ritual hammering to death of the last white tigers. The suicide pact I imagine they must have, wherein they both pluck their pubic hair into heart-shapes and lay down nude on beds of rare orchids, tanked up on some rare aboriginal nerve poison.
Vegas is a tough town. You want to make it there over the millennium, you have to anticipate the illness in the mass mind before it strikes, and become its embodiment. Hypnosis and wild animals are getting buried in the desert with the card-counters and smart mouths. Only Danny Gans and the creamy French and Italian dressings of "Paris" and "Bellagio" will dominate -- they are, after all, what the pig-eyed, whore-mongering peckerwoods want for their dust-devils of wasted money. Oli!