Las Vegas, Nevada
Two years passed, and, after three years of their four-year contract at The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino, The Regular Guys appeared to have found a home. They had taken adjacent apartments at a very nice, gated high-rise apartment complex just east of The Strip. Their show consistently sold out, usually weeks in advance.
As professional comedians headlining a major hotel on the Las Vegas Strip The Regular Guys’ schedule was not grueling. They did one show a day, five days a week for 40 weeks a year. The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino provided them with comfortable, spacious quarters as well. Backstage at the All-American Theater each had not only their own spacious dressing room, but also their own office where they could come in and take care of their mail and phone calls and whatever other personal and professional business matters comedians had to take care of. There was even an office and receptionist for Morty.
For this work, they were insanely well paid.
And the Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino was pleased as well, since customers who walked out of the show were invariably in a good mood and looking to have more fun. They usually manifested this desire to have more fun by investing in any one of the numerous games of chance sanctioned by the Nevada Gaming Commission and offered by The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino.
Lenny, content with his lot in life, had even proposed to Ann, who had accepted, though she said she couldn’t marry Lenny until she had been promoted to, and served some time as police chief. Already assistant police chief, she wanted to hold out and see the ultimate rewards for her years of hard work. Lenny understood, and it was hard to tell who was happier at the announcement, Lenny, Ann or Larry.
For his part, Larry had glided from one relationship to another, none of them making Ray Evans’ gossip column except for the couple of times Larry had been dumb enough to date women already in the public eye.
Most importantly, each still found being on stage with the other about as much fun as two people should be allowed to have, and both were happy. Lenny with having become the Vegas headliner he had long worked for and Larry with doing something well.
So when Morty Klineman, Professional Talent Agent called them with an offer from Conglomerate, Inc, the company that owned The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino as well as Caesars Palace and a few other casinos in town, to fill in at Caesars Palace for two weeks, neither thought of it as anything more than a temporary fill-in.
Caesars Palace was in a box. Several years earlier they had signed Celine Dion to an insanely large contract to headline The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, which they built expressly for her. To fill some of the dates she wasn’t performing, they had hired Elton John to a similarly insane contract.
Sir Elton, however, had torn his vocal cords recording his first rap album and could no longer fulfill his contract, leaving several vacant dates the rest of the year, including a two-week stretch starting next week.
“They want you to fill in for those two weeks, men,” Morty had told him.
Lenny and Larry looked at each other and nodded, they would be delighted to fill in for a couple of weeks. That they would end up providing an excellent example of proving Dick Francis right when he said that one takes the momentous steps unaware didn’t cross either of their formidable minds; they were headliners at The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino after all, and pleased with that. Both thought there was really no place else for them to go. They had reached the summit of their journey.
“Now, conveniently, The Regular Guys are dark for those two weeks, so you won’t lose any shows at the All-American Theater, which I know neither of you wants to do. And, I have taken Conglomerate, Inc to the mat and have negotiated a very nice contract for your two weeks’ worth of work. Plus, you can, at your option, take the two weeks off you’re losing later.”
“There doesn’t seem to be much choice,” Lenny said, looking at Larry. “We’re comedians, they’ve been good to us, we’ll do it, right?”
“I dunno partner,” he said. “Only having ten weeks vacation this year would be kind’ of tough, wouldn’t it?”
Private Dining Room
The 50th Floor Bar and Grill
The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
“So,” Ray Evans told Larry over lunch. “You’re playing Caesars. Another step up the ladder. And to think I knew you when you were playing free shows at The Sahara.”
Larry laughed and looked out the window of the 50th Street Bar and Grill; from his perch atop the newest hotel on The Strip he could see such venerable Vegas institutions as the Sahara and Riviera and Circus Circus and new institutions like The Venetian, the Palazzo and The Wynn; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the view was spectacular.
“It’s only temporary, Ray,” Larry said, waving a hand dismissively. “We’re just filling in for a couple of weeks.”
“You, of all people, should know what could happen once your foot is in the door,” Ray Evans said, pointing a finger at Larry. “That’s been the story of your entire career; somebody gets eaten by an oyster or chokes on their shrimp cocktail and the next thing you know Morty’s circling like a vulture at a famine.”
“Well, that was back when we were still looking to get our feet in doors. We’ve knocked all the doors down, now, though. There is no place else for us to go Morty.”
“There’s always someplace else to go, my friend, always new doors to open. Remember, you were happy at The Golden Nugget. In fact, had it all ended after The Golden Nugget, I don’t think you would’ve had one regret. Now look at you: you’re headlining a very nice, very large, very brand new strip hotel and making major league bank. ”
Larry considered that for a moment.
“We’re Strip headliners now, Ray,” Larry said. “That’s all Lenny’s wanted and exponentially more than sons of Lutheran ministers get around to dreaming about. Besides, Caesars Palace will find a replacement fairly quickly.”
“They might, they might not,” Ray Evans said shrugging. “They’ve got some feelers out. One of them may well be reaching for you.”
“Really?” Larry was genuinely surprised.
The gossip columnist nodded.
“Hey, you’ve been giving me rock-solid info for years. That was some for you.”
“Well, we’re both content at Las VegasUSA,” Larry said.
“As you should. But a Caesars Palace gig would be lucrative. Very lucrative. Bank city, in fact.”
“We’re making good money now, Ray,” Larry said. Which was true; by any measure, Lenny and Larry were wealthy men. “How much money does a human being need? I’ll never be able to spend what I have now unless I buy a small country or a full tank of gas.”
“You’ll find something beneficial to do with it in due course,” Ray Evans said. “That’s why it was given to you.”
Larry nodded and ate his lunch. Discussing money was very un-Lutheran.
“Larry, consider this. A sold-out Regular Guy show at the 1,000-seat All-American Theater, with tickets priced between $50 and $100, grosses $80,000. A sold-out Regular Guy show at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, with 4,100 seats and prices ranging from $85 and $150 would gross, more or less, half a million dollars.”
Ray Evans paused to order another drink.
“Now, under the terms of your contract with The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino, which, by the by, I have seen, The Regular Guys keep most of the ticket revenue they generate, though the hotel does take a portion for theater maintenance and various administrative costs. Morty would strike a similar deal with Caesars Palace. The Regular Guys would be making very large amounts of money.”
“We already are making very large amounts of money,” Larry repeated, somewhat awkwardly.
Ray Evans shook his head.
“No. Right now you are making a large amount of money. At Caesars, you would be making a very large amount of money. Celine makes an obscene amount of money. If you worried at all about money – and I suspect you do more than you let on – you would know the various levels of wage distinctions amongst the entertaining class. Lenny does.”
“It would be funny if we got another offer. We’re very happy there and they’re happy with us, though. We fit like a glove.”
“Larry, there are a lot of gloves out there, Larry,” Ray Evans said. “Don’t be afraid to try them on.”
The Colosseum at Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
“OK, you two,” Morty said before The Regular Guys were to take the stage at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace for the first time. “Do NOT munch it tonight. You can munch it any other night, but you are not allowed to munch it tonight. It’s been a long time since I’ve had somebody working Caesars and even longer since I’ve had somebody do it well. So don’t munch it tonight. Munching is not authorized.”
Lenny and Larry both laughed. By now they were both used to his “munch it” speeches before big shows and had actually gotten to where – in finest Vegas tradition – they set an over/under line on how many times Morty would actually say “munch it”. Tonight Larry had set the over/under at three and a half and Lenny had taken the over, and since Morty had only said ‘munch it’ three times, Lenny owed Larry ten million dollars.
Lenny and Larry were accustomed to first-class quarters at the All-American Theater, but after they had walked through the Colosseum and their backstage dressing area each almost hemorrhaged. The Colosseum at Caesars Palace was a positively opulent amphitheater, with 4,100 seats contained in three levels – an orchestra level and two mezzanine levels. The seats and carpeting were red, and since it was both Vegas and Caesars Palace the whole place was made to resemble the Roman Colosseum.
Backstage was even more so, looking more like a luxury hotel suite than a dressing area. In fact, each Regular Guy had his own private two-room suite, and that was just the guest quarters. For Celine Dion, Caesars had practically built her a house for her and her family.
“How we selling tonight, Morty?” Lenny asked.
“You’ll be sold out. As of an hour ago there were only a handful of seats remaining. Some who had Elton John tickets stormed the ticket office demanding refunds. Most of those have been sold and there’s been a nice walkup.
“Who would refuse an opportunity to see us?” Lenny wondered, genuinely curious. Given the choice, he’d rather see himself perform than Elton John.
“Well, tickets for Elton John ran from $100 to $250. Caesars was willing to buy tickets back, but they weren’t going to give rebates. Nor, frankly, would I have allowed them to. The Regular Guys are not Walmart. Besides, your top ticket at Las VegasUSA is $100, which isn’t exactly cheap.”
Neither Regular Guy was particularly nervous and Larry didn’t even think the occasion warranted Morty’s Don’t Munch It speech. Sure, Caesars Palace was Caesars Palace, but The Regular Guys had their own home on The Strip where they sold out regularly and had created a very nice career for themselves at The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino and both were looking forward to signing another long-term deal in the next year.
On opening night at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Lenny and Larry, for the first time in their career, entered the stage from opposite sides. Accustomed to standing together until they entered, they had stood backstage in the middle before scurrying to their entrances on each side about 30 seconds before taking the stage. Upon entering the stage The Regular Guys had been presented with their microphones by two appropriately clad showgirls.
The show got off to a great start as Lenny and Larry jumped right into a bit based on a billboard visible on Interstate 15 heading south to Los Angeles. The sign was black with large white letters that asked Was It Worth It? while informing drivers that God Cares and offering a toll-free number to call for 24/7 prayer. Lenny had seen it as he was driving out of town one day and was so inspired that in an unprecedented burst of show preparation, he actually went and fetched Larry and drove him out to look at it, too.
“So let’s see,” Lenny said. “You come to Vegas, you drink too much, and you lose enough money to ensure your kid is eating mac and cheese for the rest of the year…”
Lenny had them laughing pretty good so he let the sentence trail. Larry picked it up when the laughter started to subside.
“While you, meanwhile, consumed enough calories at the buffet to allow you to hibernate for the winter, plus, you stayed in a nice room with a view of The Strip, and you came this close to winning a hundred grand, and you licked whip cream off a stripper at Cheetahs. I’d say yes, there was a high degree of probability it was worth it.”
“God cares, though, right partner?” Lenny said seriously.
“Why? Nobody here seems to. Why should He care?”
“In case it wasn’t worth it, I guess,” Lenny said.
“How can it not be worth it, especially if you paid for Elton John tickets and are being force-fed our crap?”
“Well, at least God has a toll free number now.”
“He’d better; it is the 21st century, after all. This kneeling stuff is getting old. We should be able to text message him right now.”
Larry walked out into the audience.
“Let’s see if we can find somebody to ask if it was worth it or not,” he said. As Larry made his way downstairs put in front of the stage expressly for this purpose the crowd began to laugh.
“Larry, remember we’re looking for someone who looks like a complete loser.”
With perfect timing and completely without instructions, one of the lighting guys shined a spotlight into an area of the crowd in the lower orchestra section in front of the stage, which got a large laugh.
Larry stood in the aisle stroking his chin, scanning the lighted area for a loser.
“Okay, you, stand up,” Larry said pointing to a woman in her 30’s who was seated with several other ladies. The lady had red hair, a nice body and was wearing a skirt, which was the real reason he had picked her. Larry had hoped the light would’ve shone on a suitably loser-looking guy, but there weren’t any in the immediate vicinity, but after years together he and Lenny were quite at home thinking on their feet.
The lady stood up, giggling.
“Hey partner,” Larry said. “We haven’t even said anything and already she’s laughing like we were really funny.”
“Maybe we should quit while we’re ahead? I mean, why spoil it?”
“Thank you, everybody!” Larry exclaimed, throwing his hands up triumphantly. “Good night! Go in peace, serve The Regular Guys!”
Larry ran triumphantly back on stage towards the area he had entered from.
“Uh, partner, we can’t leave now,” Lenny informed him.
“Why not?” Larry asked, looking over his shoulder.
“Because we’ve only done five minutes. We still have over an hour of comedy to deliver.”
Larry turned around to face Lenny.
Larry had a couple of funny lines ready, including one about five minutes not being too bad, but he sensed the audience was about to reach their limit for this bit, so trotted to and down the stairs and back into the audience.
“OK, where’d our loser go?” he asked, scanning the audience.
Dutifully, and again with perfect timing and without instruction, the spotlight shined on the red-haired lady in the middle of the sixth row. Larry motioned her to stand.
“What’s your name?”
“Carolyn, are you a loser?” Larry asked.
“I like to think so,” she said, laughing again.
“Good. Are you and these pretty ladies together?”
Carolyn said yes, they were.
“Where are you from?”
They were from Georgia; a big shout went up as if the whole crowd was from Georgia.
“So, what have you done this trip, besides blow money on this show?”
Carolyn somewhat regained her composure.
“Well, actually we were comped for this show,” she said, looking around at her girlfriends as if she were about to share a state secret with Larry. “But we’ve gambled. A lot. And we went to the Chippendales show.” Completely shamed by this revelation, Carolyn buried her face in both her hands and started laughing again.
“I suppose,” Larry said, looking around and sounding philosophical. “The only question that matters is, Carolyn, was it worth it?”
Carolyn started laughing really hard. Larry turned his head towards Lenny.
“I think that’s a yes,” Larry said.
“Actually,” Carolyn said, between laughs. “It’s still worth it!”
In an impressive show of female solidarity, her friends let out a shout, confirming that it was, in fact, still worth it.
“Ladies, I have God’s toll-free number here, if you’re interested,” Lenny said, walking towards the group and holding a business card out in front of him; he was so thorough he had actually written the toll-free number on the card before the show.
“This goes directly to the Big Guy upstairs,” Lenny said significantly, handing the card to Carolyn. “Ship to shore, or shore to heaven, something like that. I don’t know.”
“You know Carolyn,” Larry said. “The Regular Guys have a signal we use with our stage manager to indicate we have a person or group of people we would like to join us backstage after the show. The signal is very subtle and virtually undetectable and easily missed by most people. In fact, it is possible to watch the show for a whole hour and not see this very subtle and virtually undetectable signal given numerous times.”
There was no such signal but Larry liked the ladies in Carolyn’s party and thought they might get a kick out of a backstage tour and a drink with The Regular Guys and whichever stars happened to be in attendance who made their way backstage. Morty would be watching and he would get the hint and have someone take care of getting Carolyn and her party backstage after the show.
“You’re not going to execute this very subtle, almost undetectable maneuver right now are you, Larry?” Lenny sounded shocked. He took a step back in reverent amazement.
Larry turned his head toward Lenny and nodded.
“I am now going to execute this very subtle, almost undetectable maneuver!” Larry proclaimed.
With suitable exaggeration, Larry reached into a back pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. He then looked towards the stage and waved the handkerchief above his head with his right hand as he pointed to Carolyn with his left and then whispered “Right here” into the microphone.
“Okay,” he said as he put the hanky back in his pocket. “That concludes the very subtle, virtually undetectable signal.”
“Now,” Lenny said. “Do not get scared if you are approached after the show, even if it’s by an old Jew with a cat on his head. He means well.”
The Regular Guys Offices
Backstage, The All-American Theater
The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Regular Guys did two triumphant weeks at Caesars Palace. Caesars Palace had bought back their share of tickets from snobs who only wanted to see Sir Elton, but The Regular Guys following was not insignificant and in fairly short order the entire two weeks were sold out.
“Okay men,” Morty said, calling to order an impromptu meeting of his clients. “You were aces at Caesars Palace. There is no doubt about that. You appear to be pleased with your labors, and you should be, and lord knows Caesars is pleased. Each sold-out show by a headliner nets them an awful lot in ancillary revenue and they were very pleased. You sent customers back into the casino ready to drink and gamble or maybe have a late dinner. Even if they only bought a Caesars Palace shirt, it all adds up. I know neither of you particularly care about that, but you know the score as well as I do and that is really why they didn’t want The Colosseum empty for those two weeks.”
“And you made a disgustingly large sum of money. In fact, you made a little more in two weeks than you do in a fiscal quarter at Las VegasUSA, and you’re very well paid at Las VegasUSA.”
Lenny and Larry both nodded; they knew Morty as well as they knew each other and Morty was imparting information right now and did not want comment. When he was ready for comment, he would invite comment.
Morty looked at Lenny and Larry significantly.
“Conglomerate, Inc. is very interested in having you at Caesars Palace on a regular basis, men. Elton John is out. His vocal cords will never recover from trying to record a rap album, and Celine Dion is – and you may find this surprising – only contracted for 158 shows over the course of the next twelve months.”
Lenny raised an eyebrow. He did find that surprising. The Regular Guys were contracted to deliver 200 shows a year at Las VegasUSA, and Celine was paid a lot more than The Regular Guys.
Larry did some figuring in his head.
“Wow. She’s dark 50 days more than she’s on stage.”
Morty gave a more-or-less nod.
“Now, they don’t want you to fill all the empty dates. They have contracts with other performers for one or two gigs at a time and some others for extended stays, but they would like you to play The Colosseum at Caesars Palace a significant amount of time.”
“They want us to take Sir Elton’s dates?” Lenny asked.
“Actually, they want you to do more than that. Elton only plays – and this might surprise you, too – a couple of dozen shows a year at Caesars. They would like you to do 100 shows a year. Celine takes a lot of time off in long stretches. In fact, she has nine such stretches ranging in length from eight days to 24 days. The dates all fall in these stretches. I invite comment.”
Lenny and Larry thought about it for a moment.
“Boy, I’d hate to have our gigs split between two places,” Lenny said. “A hundred shows are half our schedule. It could make it seem like we’re part-time help.”
“He makes a good point,” Larry said, choosing, as he sometimes did, not to elaborate.
Morty was rather surprised the offer had not been more enthusiastically received; not every entertainer was offered regular, lucrative work at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road.
But it was typical of his clients. The Regular Guys first, and really only, concern since they had first taken the stage was the show. If they did a good show, everything else would take care of itself. They had built a loyal following at The Las VegasUSA Hotel and Casino, and, though they had only been there three years, both felt right at home. Lenny in particular was in the habit of walking around the casino like a mother hen before a show shaking hands with guests and employees alike making sure everything was shipshape.
“We can work around that,” Morty said. He saw Lenny and Larry’s point but didn’t necessarily agree with it. “We can get Las VegasUSA to rename your theater The Regular Guys Theater. That would lend an air of permanence. And you would still have the marquee, of course. Plus, the same company owns them. Your shows at both locations could be promoted at both sites. In fact, Caesars had been promoting and selling your show since you started there. It would be very easy to keep you associated with Las VegasUSA in the eyes of the public.”
“How much business do you think we can do at Caesars?” Lenny asked. “I mean, we’re comedians, not singers with spectacular productions. We’re just two guys with microphones and 41-hundred seats are a lot to fill 100 times a year.”
“I think you’d be surprised,” Morty said. “One, when Sir Elton had to cancel, not many people demanded refunds. It could’ve been expected, without detracting from your talents or the quality of your show at all, that at least half of the ticket holders might have asked for their money back. I saw the audits; your number was less than 20 percent. I know Lenny would take anyone wanting a refund as a personal insult, but really, that isn’t too bad.”
“Weren’t the returned tickets resold in fairly short order though?” Larry asked.
“Indeed they were, my friend. Within a few days, the entire fortnight was sold out. I think you’d do great business at Caesars Palace.”
“Fortnight? You auditioning for a Wimbledon telecast?” Larry asked.
Morty stuck his nose in the air.
“Maybe,” he said haughtily.
“Four thousand people every night was kinda nice, partner,” Lenny said.
Larry nodded. He had enjoyed that too, he had to admit.