Jamie Masada doesn’t eat bacon, but he really knows how to chew the fat.
A dinner conversation with the founder of Laugh Factory turns to movies. We have been talking of different types of writing — short stories, scripts, men’s room graffiti — and he recalls a film he co-produced.
“It was called ‘Rocketman,’ ” he says, cutting into a piece of salmon with a fork. “Do you remember it?”
“No,” I say. “I know the song ‘Rocket Man,’ but not the movie.”
“I co-produced this movie, and it had Harland Williams in it,” he says.
“I know of Harland Williams, the comedian,” I say.
“Yes, and it was a movie about the first space mission to Mars, and we put a monkey on the rocket ship,” he says.
“This is a great movie,” I say. “I have never seen it, but it is great.”
“"If you have a monkey in a rocket ship, that's a funny movie," he says.
“I would like to write a movie with a monkey, but not on a rocket ship,” I say.
“What would you do with the monkey?” he says.
“Maybe put him in a deep-sea vessel,” I say. “Like, a submarine.”
“No,” he says. “You have gone too far. Monkeys don’t like being under water.”
“They don’t?” I say. “Why? Because they don’t like SCUBA gear?”
“They don’t like SCUBA gear,” he says. “They don’t like being connected to oxygen tanks.”
“That makes sense,” I say.
At that point, we pause to consider the widespread ridiculousness of the conversation. Masada then points to the feet of a woman seated at a nearby table and says, “Vegas shoes.” Indeed, the woman’s footwear is flashing with bright red lights. “Only in Las Vegas!”
How it was that Masada and I were seated in the Trop’s steakhouse centered on the fundraiser he has arranged for tonight at 8:30. The Laugh Factory is raising money to help the family of cab driver Michael Boldon, who was killed in the shooting and collision on the Strip in the early morning hours of Feb. 21.
All of the proceeds from the performance will be donated to the Boldon family to help defray funeral expenses. The show is headlined by Greg Morton, with featured comic Seamus O'Brien and host Gary Caouette. Comic-magician Murray Sawchuck, who also plays the Laugh Factory room, and Flamingo headliner George Wallace are expected to appear.
“Gallagher wants to do five minutes,” Masada says. This would be a joke, except that the famed prop comic has been kicking around Vegas for the past couple of months, taking in the scene and posing for photos. Usually, he’s wearing the same shirt he wore in the filming of his Geico insurance commercials.
Masada has known Gallagher for a long time, as he has known just about every stand-up comic to take any comedy-club stage over the past 35 years. He opened his first Laugh Factory club in L.A. in 1979, taking over a building once owned by Groucho Marx. The club’s first headliner was Richard Pryor. In a slice of comedy lore, when Masada attempted to pay Pryor, the star comic instead pulled out a $100 bill and wrote a note, “You need this for your rent, boy.”
Masada spins enough yarn to open a sweater factory. He talks of picking up Rodney Dangerfield from Dangerfield’s 2003 brain surgery. Dangerfield wanted to perform. Masada said, “No way, Rodney. You can barely walk.” Dangerfield insisted, and Masada helped him out of his car, into the club and onto the stage.
“He told one joke and got a laugh, and then applause, and you could see the color return to his face, and it was as white as this tablecloth,” Masada remembers. “It was like a miracle. I have never seen anything like it.”
George Carlin once asked Masada if he could appear at the club during its infancy, when Carlin may have been the hottest comic in the country. He wanted to try out some new material.
Masada was eager, too eager, to make this happen. He arrived at the club, and Carlin was sitting at the bar, a mask of anger covering his face. “He was drinking a Heineken, and he smelled like pot,” Masada says. “That’s OK. It’s George Carlin. But he was really mad and says, ‘I want to talk to you. Upstairs.”
To Masada’s office, in other words. Carlin was so angry with Masada that the young club operator feared the comedian might throw a punch.
“He was saying, ‘You stupid so-and-so!’ ” Masada recalls. “I was saying, ‘What did I do wrong, George?’ ”
Carlin finally shouted, “The marquee!” He was referring to the sign outside, of course, which blazed with, “Appearing Tonight: George Carlin.”
“All of those people out there are here to see me,” Carlin said to Masada. “If you hadn’t announced it was me, you’d have a couple hundred people running around the city spreading the word that anyone might show up at the Laugh Factory on any night. You blew it.”
Masada says, “He was right. Now I never announce a big name who comes into the club like that. I learned so much from George Carlin.”
When asked how his club in Vegas is doing, amid 10 comedy clubs currently in operation around town, he shrugs and says, “We are surviving in this jungle.” For that, he is lucky. The monkeys are just a bonus.