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August 20, 2014

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It’s good times for Brad Garrett as his Comedy Club turns 2 at MGM Grand

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Christopher DeVargas

Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club

Brad Garrett Comedy Club

Manager Tony Camacho is shown inside Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Launch slideshow »
Kats With the Dish

Brad Garrett

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Comedian Brad Garrett, who is making his second attempt at running a comedy club in Vegas, explains why he moved from the Trop to the MGM Grand and talks of his new pilot for ABC.

Note: This is a version of the cover story in the current issue of sister publication Las Vegas Magazine.

What’s funny about a star comedian writing an autobiography (aside from the obvious) is what’s unearthed during his or her research.

In the case of Brad Garrett, the evidence uncovered thanks to the miracle of photography was an impression he performed when he started standup in front of audiences. This was in 1974, Garrett was age 14 at the time, and the hot sitcom of the moment was “Good Times.”

“My comedic hero at the time was Jimmie “J.J.” Walker,” says Garrett, who this week and weekend celebrates the second anniversary of operating Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM Grand. “I did a handful of impressions, and one of the first was Jimmie Walker. I got the denim hat, the sweater, the vest, everything.”

Garrett remembers being 6-foot-4 and 98 pounds, looking similar in stature to a young Walker. He was asked to perform the impression at his temple (Garrett being Jewish) and decided to go full tilt my adding makeup to the impression.

“I went to a makeup place, this tall kid from the Bronx, and asked, ‘Can you make me look like Sidney Poitier?’ ” Garrett says. “I was not trying to make it like a minstrel show but just to add to the character.”

Garrett remembers that first performance coming off well enough but was then hired to perform at a bar mitzvah at a Sportsmen’s Lodge.

“I show up at the Lodge in this makeup, and they are saying, ‘What the (hell) are you wearing?’ I’m in the kitchen with blacks and Latinos in my makeup and my Dyn-O-Myte shirt,” Garrett says. “I was led out through the back door. … How it was that nobody in my house stopped me from going out in that makeup is still a mystery to me. But I did find the photo in an old album I was looking through just a few days ago. I am using it is in my book, and I hope it doesn’t kill my career.”

The book is one of Garrett’s myriad projects, titled “When the Balls Drop,” being published by Simon & Schuster and due for a spring 2015 release. The TV rights for the book, which is largely Garrett’s richly entertaining life story mixed with his own observations about growing older, have been picked up by 20th Century Television. He hopes to develop a cable-TV show from the book and also has wrapped his work this season on Robin Williams’ CBS sitcom “The Crazy Ones.”

“I’m about halfway through,” Garrett said after his performance Wednesday night. “Writing a book is really hard.”

In Las Vegas, Garrett is moving into his fifth year of running a club, having moved his operation to MGM Grand from Tropicana in 2013. He typically appears as host one week per month, though this spring he did take two months off to work on the book and the sitcom. He’ll likely perform two weekends a month during the summer, with ticket prices elevated when he is in town (tickets start at $68.40 when Garrett’s on, $46.40 when he’s off). The club sells out when the star is onstage; it runs about 75-percent capacity when he is not.

Garrett will be in town during the anniversary week through Sunday. He says the business is making money and “creatively, I’m having more fun than ever.” He points to the wide array of comics who have appeared on his stage during his run in Las Vegas, including upstarts such as Michael Somerville and established friends such as Ralph Harris, who have routinely killed during their sets.

In fact, one of the dozens of comics to perform at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club is his teenage inspiration: Jimmie “J.J.” Walker.

“He doesn’t know that story,” Garrett says, clearly referring to his long-ago impression. “I was just trying to be edgy and think out of the box. Looking back, it’s pretty funny. It showed I was willing to be edgy and odd and think out of the box even then.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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