Friday, June 6, 2003 | 8:39 a.m.
Jerry Fink's lounge column appears on Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org at (702) 259-4058.
Las Vegas has more than its fair share of magicians. It has a ventriloquist or two. And the city seems to be crawling with pickpockets (few of them onstage, however).
Swiss native Claudio de Negri, who calls himself "The Swiss Army Knife of Comedy," combines all three talents in a one-man show that has made the 33-year-old comedian popular on the corporate entertainment circuit in Europe.
Vegas audiences will have the opportunity to see why he is in such demand when de Negri brings his talents to the Riviera's 200-seat Le Bistro Theatre for two free performances at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Although he has a strong following in Europe, de Negri would like to establish a base in the Las Vegas market.
"I would love to perform in Vegas on a full-time basis," says de Negri, whose native tongue is French. "But I have reached a point in Europe where I have a good reputation. I don't want to come here just to do a 15-minute show somewhere."
Las Vegas is appealing to entertainers from all over the world, for obvious reasons. It has an international audience, and it probably has a higher concentration of showrooms than anywhere else in the world.
"Europe doesn't have the venues Vegas has," de Negri noted.
When he completes his performance Sunday he will rush back to Europe, where he has a lineup of gigs that will keep him busy for several months.
Before de Negri became a full-time entertainer he had a couple of other careers.
First he was a surveyor.
"Surveying has to do with precise measuring," de Negri said. "I am Swiss, very precise, very orderly."
From surveying, he moved on to become a matchmaker -- he arranged weddings.
"I would hear the wishes of single people and introduce them to each other," de Negri said. "I learned to work with people from that experience."
At the same time he was earning a living surveying and matchmaking, he was honing his diverse skills that he began to accumulate as a child.
"When I was 7 I did impressions of my Italian mother," de Negri said. "She bought me a magic kit to make me stop."
He became adept at sleight-of-hand tricks, which helped him become a pickpocket.
"I saw my first pickpocket (act) when I was around 20," de Negri said. "When I saw it, I was hooked."
Then he discovered he had a knack for throwing his voice.
His three talents merged about the time his job as a matchmaker ended, and at about the time a professional magician died.
"When the magician passed away, I had to take his contracts," de Negri said.
That was the unusual beginning of an unusual career for an unusual young man who can perform his unusual routines in four languages, French, German, Italian and English.
De Negri's show starts with ventriloquism. He uses four dummies -- Michael the rapper, a mind-reading dog, a sexpot female duck and a buzzard that pops out of a box at unexpected moments.
Magic is interspersed with the routines, which gradually move into his skills as a pickpocket, stealing watches, ties, suspenders and other items from unsuspecting victims during the show and returning them at the end.
Perhaps this weekend he will steal the hearts of Las Vegas audiences.
The Cannery kicks off the summer June 20 and June 21 with a Blues, Brews & Barbecue weekend from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. each day. John Earl & The Boogey Man Band will be the featured entertainment from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; and Little Chris & The Nightcrawlers will perform from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Moody Scott will also perform. Local barbecue restaurants will be serving food.
Dance to big-band favorites at Charleston Heights Arts Center from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on June 15. The Carl Grove Combo performs the music from the 1930s and '40s. Tickets are $12 the day of the performance and $10 in advance. Call 229-6383 for information.
Free entertainment at the Indigo Lounge at Bally's includes Art Vargas (6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays) and Cat Daddy (10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.)
Caesars Palace's Galleria Bar features Kathy Lamar from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and Andrew James from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Cleopatra's Barge has a rotating group of musicians, which plays from 8:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. nightly, including Sho Type, Chyna, Forward Motion and Six-Five-O. And in the Terrazza Lounge from 6 p.m. to midnight are Ghalib Ghallab (Wednesdays through Sundays) and Darcus (Mondays and Tuesdays).