Tom Cotter takes the call right on the button for a 3 p.m. interview. The first question to the rapid-response comedian: “Where are you right now?”
His answer: “In denial.”
Cotter is actually in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the time of the call prepping for an appearance that night in Delray Beach. But Cotter is a veteran comic and as such is always quick to wield the shtick. So he says he’s in denial, but really he is in a state of good fortune as he returns to the stage version of “America’s Got Talent” at the Palazzo at the end of this month.
“America’s Got talent Live in Las Vegas” is back at the Palazzo Theater beginning Feb. 25. The show will be rolled out six days per week at 7 p.m. Tickets are expected to be on sale “soon,” certainly and hopefully before Feb. 25, and are $45 to $125.
Cotter is the first comedian to reach the finals of that show and owns the distinction of being Season 7’s top finalist who is not a canine. That was the season the boundless and ceaselessly obedient Olate (pronounced “Oh! Latte!”) Dogs won the million-dollar prize.
That phalanx of pooches under the attentive care of Richard Olate and his son Nicholas returns from the show that played the Palazzo for eight weeks from September through November. Other holdovers from the 2012 production are Lightwire Theater, the luminescent and impressively costumed crew of glow-in-the-dark characters who dazzle grown-up and kids alike.
The newcomers for the open-ended run are David Garibaldi and His CMYK’s (the high-energy dance troupe that incorporates paint with its explosive choreography), Jarrett & Raja (a mix of music, magic and comedy who have performed on the Strip for years) and 13-year-old singing sensation Anna Graceman.
At the center of this one-ring circus is Cotter, not only a member of the variety performance but the production’s emcee. Cotter is easily qualified for that role and is among one of the most accomplished performers to appear on “AGT.” He has worked as a stand-up for two decades, hitting hundreds of college campuses and performing on most major network and cable talk shows. Cotter has starred in his own Comedy Central special, appeared in TV commercials and won several regional comedy contests in such cities as Seattle and Boston. He was voted Best Stand Up at the second annual Las Vegas Comedy Festival at Caesars Palace in 2006.
And that stage and screen experience doesn’t fold in Cotter’s commercial gigs, as a spokesman for Pepsi, McDonald’s and Doritos. It is this type of veteran savvy that allowed Cotter to outdistance less-seasoned comics on “AGT.” He is well suited to pilot the live show and is typically the first person to address the audience.
“The crowd is hardly talked to at all until I come out. I mean, no one has spoken to them,” Cotter said. “They have wanted it to be a rapid-fire variety show, and it can be a little weird to be doing stand-up in the middle of that, but I am the first one to set the tone and say, ‘Hi! How are you?’ and engage the audience.”
Cotter is important when unexpected events unfold in the theater. The fire alarm is known to blare and flash during performances; this happened at least twice last year. And it was Cotter who provided a sense of comedic calm.
“When that alarm goes off, it’s not the sand artist or harpist who gets the call. It’s the comic who reassures everyone they won’t go up in flames,” Cotter said with a quick laugh. “I’ve had to stay in the wings because you never knew what curve ball was going to happen next.”
But those moments were rare. The “AGT” live show is a nostalgic trip to variety shows of generations ago, “The Ed Sullivan Show” being the chief and most obvious example. If you have a skill at, say, dancing while wearing day-glow Spandex or teaching dogs to moonwalk, “AGT” is the place to audition. Cotter is unique because he ascended to the top of that competition absent a unique or uncommon skill. He’s just great at making people laugh, and “AGT” sent his career onto a higher plane.
“I’ll tell you, this has been a game-changer for me. It’s Mount Everest,” he said. “I’ll be forever indebted to them for that reason. I did Craig Ferguson’s show (“The Late Late Show”), and I’m honored, always, to do that show. But there are many millions more people who saw me on ‘AGT.’ There are a lot comics who are playing cruise ships and clubs all over the country who are very funny.
"I’m just the one who was lucky.”
For the veteran comic, it’s a feeling that is undeniable.