Monday, July 22, 2013 | 5:04 p.m.
Editor’s Note: While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with Robert De Niro impressionist Robert Nash, host of “Raack N Roll” at the D Hotel.
Performing in the showrooms of Las Vegas didn’t just happen. My life as an entertainer goes back to the days when Las Vegas was still the “Las Vegas” everybody talks about, asks questions about and, for a small group here, still reminisces about.
The year was 1975. I moved to Las Vegas at 10 years old. Just a kid who liked to ride his bike and play games with all the other kids in the neighborhood. However, I had an interest in television and film. I enjoyed mimicking actors and trying to become them or look like them with hats, costumes and various props.
My grandmother took me to the magic shop Magic Mansion at Circus Circus one weekend, and I was mesmerized by a simple trick an employee showed me. I knew then that magic was an outlet for me to perform.
I was so involved in performing as a magician that I developed an act that combined magic and comedy. By the time I was 13, I had showcased at a Las Vegas resort. I then landed my first professional gig.
As time went on, I worked at various hotels and other establishments in Las Vegas. Though I never landed a major show, I was surrounded by many other entertainers who were adults who gave me confidence to keep performing and said one day I could possibly be in a Las Vegas showroom.
At 18, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Knowing how tough the acting business was, I also had worked on special effects makeup. I figured it worked for Lon Chaney, so why not give it a go? When I arrived in Hollywood, my first thought was to become a member of the Magic Castle. I had heard that many celebrities would visit the castle, and who knows whom you might meet?
Although acting in film and television was my main goal, I used magic as a tool to constantly perform and meet people in “the acting world.” I soon realized that I had a strong ability for doing impressions. A good friend suggested that I should combine celebrity impressions and magic, something that was different from the typical performing magician. It turned into something I enjoyed doing because magic alone was becoming boring.
After a few years, I was getting so involved with the impressions and not liking the bulky props of magic, I decided to break away from magic. Easier said than done! I was a performer, not a writer. Coming up with material was a struggle for me, and I couldn’t afford to hire a writer.
In 1990, I heard of a new show that was being cast at Universal Studios titled “Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Review.” With my background in special-effects makeup, this was right up my alley. I dressed up as Beetlejuice in full makeup and costume. When I walked into the casting call, all the other actors auditioning were in normal clothes waiting in line to read.
The casting director saw me, walked up to say hello and thought I went all-out for a first audition. I replied with a very sarcastic “thank you” in the Beetlejuice voice. I got the job that day.
After four years of Beetlejuice, no big break and getting sick of cattle-call auditions (did I mention an earthquake in 1994 that made me uncomfortable?), I decided that acting was too tough of a grind in L.A. If I was going to perform live, I wanted to do it in my home, Las Vegas.
Back to Sin City, but things had changed in 10 years. Lounge shows were fading, a new concept of four-walling a showroom was the new corporate thing, and getting a job performing in hotels had become thin.
Back I went to the grind of the impression act. Now I didn’t have a choice. I had to start writing and developing newer, fresher impressions to go along with the older ones. While taking different jobs to get by over the next few years, all spare time went into developing the new show. Once it was ready, I performed it in any place I could just to grind it out and make it tight. Changing bits and jokes till it was fine-tuned enough to make the sacrificial move.
I had saved up enough money to four-wall my own show. I was able to keep it going for six months. Eventually, I couldn’t afford it anymore. I’m a performer, not a producer. The pressure to handle the show and business was too much. But during the time of doing this act, a few people had told me of my resemblance to Robert De Niro.
I never thought anything of it because I did impressions of more than 50 celebrities. Eventually, I realized that I could impersonate De Niro, and Las Vegas was the town for it. Then I landed a featured spot in the topless revue “Raack N Roll” at the D Hotel as the host, emcee and comedy impressionist.
My life had come full circle, from performing in my childhood and now as an adult, doing what I love in the town I love doing it in — Las Vegas!
Check out our other guest columns today from “X Burlesque” producer Angela Stabile, “X Burlesque” star Meeka and chef Akira Back, who opens Kumi at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday, then Tuesday from “The Rat Pack” stars Sandy Hackett and Lisa Dawn Miller and producer Seth Yudof.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.
Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.