Monday, July 28, 2014 | 9 p.m.
As Robin Leach continues his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy — in Andrea Bocelli’s hometown of Forte dei Marmi — many of our Strip personalities have again stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with sexy dancer Shakeera Onstead of “X Burlesque” at the Flamingo and comedian John Bizarre of sister topless show “X Rocks” at the Rio. Here is John’s take on dealing with male audiences at a Las Vegas striptease production.
As with any discipline, standup comedy continually offers a new skill to master. Even a battle-scarred, comedy veteran who has spent years working his or her way across the country entertaining drunken, knuckle-dragging chowderheads in every god-awful, third-rate beer hall from Punxsutawney to Goose Pimple Junction has to occasionally learn a new trick to survive another night onstage.
My wife Nancy Ryan has been the resident comedienne at “X Burlesque” in the Flamingo for six years, and only recently have I truly appreciated the lion she tames every night. When a comic walks onstage at a comedy club, the audience is expecting to hear standup comedy. That’s why they’ve come. It’s what they’ve paid for, and they’re eager to hear it.
When a comic walks onstage at a burlesque show, as I found out the first night I filled in for Nancy, the audience isn’t really sure what’s happening, and you can clearly see that confusion on their faces. “Wait, where did the girls go? Who’s this guy? What’s he yappin’ about? When are the girls coming back? He’s not gonna take his shirt off, is he?”
About a year ago, Matt and Angela Stabile, the producers of “X Burlesque,” offered me a job as resident comedian at their new burlesque show at the Rio titled “X Rocks.” My first thought was to politely decline the offer, having taken it in the teeth a number of times filling in for Nancy. But the competitor in me wanted to give it a shot and see if I could pull it off.
That was about 10 months ago, and I’m still in the show. They haven’t fired me yet, although I have no doubt that there are nights they would surely give me the stink eye if I could muster the courage to look them in the face after my set.
I’m just beginning to realize how good my wife is at it. Nancy is a grandmaster in the martial art of being a comic in a Las Vegas burlesque show. It requires a set of skills that does not come naturally to a standup, and they are skills that need to be honed. You almost need a teacher.
Ultimately, for the most part, you just have to figure it out for yourself. You can’t just go up there and tell your jokes like it’s a comedy club. If you do, you’ll be eaten alive. You are a comedy interlude in a very sexy show, and you've got 10 minutes to establish yourself, win them over and get the audience back into the show with a bang. You can’t just tread water. You have to swim as though a hungry shark were snapping at your toes.
I honestly think “X Rocks” is the best burlesque show in Las Vegas, and that has nothing to do with my being in the show. The whole package, from the crew to the cast to the show itself, is an incredible assemblage that works, and I’m still trying to find my place within it.
I've performed standup on “The Tonight Show,” Showtime and Comedy Central, as well as aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and in camouflage tents in Afghanistan for audiences shouldering loaded, automatic weapons.
Doing comedy, night after night, in a burlesque show is no less a challenge. It’s comparable to studying karate in that if you are a true student of the discipline, there is always something new to learn.
Fortunately for me, I’m married to a 10th-degree black belt.
Be sure to read “X Burlesque” dancer Shakeera Onstead’s guest column today and then Tuesday an advance look behind-the-scenes of SLS Las Vegas with its top executives ahead of its August grand-gala opening.
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.
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Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.