One could say Harry Basil wears a lot of hats. Literally. The prop comic gives Carrot Top a run for his money with a frenetically paced set full of quick costume changes and bits that center on scenes from popular films.
Before his show on Tuesday night at The Comedy Stop at The Sahara, comedian, actor, director, screenwriter and occasional poker player Harry Basil, walked downtown to the Gambler’s General Store. He’s been performing in Las Vegas since 1984, so he knows the real place to shop is the discount store behind the well-known local landmark. He was in search of fabric to re-felt his poker table. “A lot of comedians, actors and writers have a game once a month. Nobody’s good; they just come for the food I cook,” Basil says. Basil won’t be serving up a home-cooked meal at The Comedy Stop, but you might get something from the box of chocolates in his Forrest Gump scene.
You worked with Rodney Dangerfield for 17 years. How did you first get started with him?
I was in his first HBO special, the 9th Annual Young Comedians Special. A few years later, Rodney wanted to do a show called Rodney Dangerfield and Friends, and he picked me even though he had never seen my whole act before. It was a 2,000-seat show and I got a standing ovation. After seeing that, Rodney asked if I would like to open for him.
Did you ever feel that you were in his shadow at all?
I was watching the movie Funny People, and I couldn’t help but think about my relationship with Rodney. Besides being Rodney’s opening act, I was also his writing partner. We made five movies together, two of which I directed, so I wasn’t in his shadow when I was directing him. He respected my talent and was a true friend. After he died, his wife sent me a gift. The box was huge so I thought it was the flat screen TV I had helped him pick out, but it was his robe he always wore beautifully framed with five handwritten pages from his book – parts of what he wrote about me. She told me Rodney said he was most comfortable in that robe and the second most comfortable being in my presence. It was so sweet.
How did you first get your start in comedy?
Back in 1984, we were on the cover of Showbiz Weekly, and it said, “Unknown band of zanies takes over The Dunes.” It was me, Jim Carey, Louie Anderson, Paul Rodriguez, Blake Clark and Andrew Dice Clay. We opened The Comedy Store at The Dunes and that was my first month or two in comedy. I just branched out and did more road gigs and kept working for The Comedy Store in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
How did you end up a prop comic?
I never said I was going to be a prop comic, I never even thought I was going to do stand up; I wanted to be an actor. A friend told me to go to The Comedy Store for open mic night because all the bigger guys came by to perform after. I saw Jim Carey, Andrew Dice Clay, who were both using music in their acts. I could always do impressions and was inspired by them. The first bit I did was Raiders of the Lost Ark and it wasn’t long before I got a regular paying gig at The Comedy Store.
Since you have so much audience participation in your act, have your participants ever had really embarrassing moments?
I once accidentally glued a man’s finger to his head. I used to do this bit where I would ask if anyone had any Krazy Glue, like that old commercial where the guy in the hard hat would get glued to a beam. I had my welder’s hat and I was about to do my Flashdance bit, and jokingly I said, “Does anyone have any Krazy Glue?” To my surprise, someone threw some up on stage. I saw the pin was in the glue so I said, “Let’s see what happens if we apply some Krazy Glue!” There was a hole in the side and it dripped on his head and the guy said, “What the fuck?” and touched his head and his finger got glued to it. I thought I was going to get sued.