A few hours after we had lunch at the Hard Rock, Jeff Beacher headed over to the Rainforest Café inside the MGM Grand, where he proceeded to strip down to his man panties and dive into the restaurant's fish tank. Though he'd been planning this publicity stunt for days, he didn't mention it to me. Or, at least not directly.
Instead, Beacher talked about his other life selling furniture ("Well, I sold it on Wall Street"), which he gave up a couple of years ago to pursue his dream of doing stand-up comedy. As Beacher tells it, he had a hard time catching a break in the rigid world of comedy clubs featuring nothing but headliners and amateur nights. So he decided to kick in the door by promoting his own show, Beacher's Comedy Madhouse. According to him, the show became an instant sensation at the Supper Club Theatre in New York, selling out every week. Madhouse's hip quotient was certainly enhanced by its regular appearances on The New York Post's famed gossip column, Page Six, thanks to celebrity fans like Rose McGowan and the Hilton sisters (who were interestingly on handthus guaranteeing plenty of nearby pressfor the stunt at the MGM, too). Then there was Beacher's knack for publicity, which included, big surprise, things like diving in his underpants into a faux mermaid tank at a celebrity party he crashed at a ritzy New York lounge. (The event, of course, documented on Page Six.)
This is comedy by way of Jackass and the Jim Rose Circus. Forget a man with just a microphone and a joke. Though I never saw the show in New York, based on a video preview Beacher gave me, the Madhouse is a sort of variety show: stand- up surrounded by a mix of circus freak elements and, of course, plenty of dancing girls.
Unless you count something like Bottoms Up, there is nothing like this going on in Vegas now. Here, comedy is mostly split between club bills, improv shows and headliners. Or, in Beacher's opinion: "Comedy in Las Vegas is boring."
So, smelling opportunity, Beacher says, as we finish eating and he winds up the story, he abandoned New York and moved here. Madhouse debuts December 30 at the Hard Rock, and local talent need not apply: "I am flying in New York comics, because they're the best."
Had Beacher told me of his plan to dive into a fish tank that evening, I would have told him not to bother. Vegas ain't New York, guy. For one thing, we have drunks attempting that sort of nuttiness all the time. MGM security would certainly stop Beacher before he pulled it off, and even if he succeeded, how much publicity could jumping into an aquarium deliver? It turns out quite a bit.
MGM security not only arrived too late to stop Beacher, but the hapless and, apparently ill-tempered officers wound up the inadvertent stars of a video showing them scuffling with Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis (who was either an amused bystander or an accomplice). I saw the video on Fox News and it aired repeatedly for days until a certain Iraqi dictator offered more compelling footage to loop than MGM security persecuting a producer of naughty girl tapes.
In all, an extraordinarily successful bit of guerilla marketing for Beacher, and when I reached him the next day, he was obviously pleased recounting his antics.
"I was wearing a habitat uniform, a tan thing like all the fish and wildlife people wear. I was carrying a 10-foot ladder, and I just brought it over to the fish tank area [at the Rainforest Café] and then I climbed up. No one knew what was going on. It was hysterical. When I get out of the tank, MGM security reads me my rights and they arrest me. As I am walking out I think in my head, this is the perfect publicity stunt."
According to Beacher, the citation he was issued later by the real police claims that he "did willfully and unlawfully commit a breach of peace... submerging oneself in a fish tank in a manner as to incite a disturbance and disturb and annoy persons in the immediate area." Beacher disputes only the last part: "People weren't annoyed. They were cheering when I came out, laughing and clapping."
Despite being a newbie who has already infuriated the largest casino company in town (he is now banned from setting foot in all MGM-Mirage properties), Beacher says he has no regrets: "This is my statement that I've arrived in Las Vegas. Beacher's here."
I guess there are times when even the most cynical columnist gets roped into a publicity stunt, and this is one of them. Shame on me. All I can say is, Beacher, come the end of the month, you'd better make me laugh.
Contributing editor Richard Abowitz covers entertainment for the Weekly.