Celebs get skewered in a blast from Las Vegas’ entertainment past with ‘Showbiz Roast’

Building the scene: Emmy-winning set designer Andy Walmsley (right) is honoring Old Vegas with Showbiz Roast. Next in the hot seat: Oscar Goodman.
Photo: Sam Morris

Andy Walmsley winces when friends describe him as a “set builder.” One friend in particular, former KLAS Channel 8 entertainment reporter Dayna Roselli, understands this, but playfully introduces Walmsley that way just to elicit a bristle from the Emmy Award-winning set designer. The point is, the British-bred Walmsley is not one to wield a hammer, paint planks or lug scenery. He’s the visionary behind many dazzling stages on national TV and in Las Vegas. He has been nominated three times for Emmys and won the award in 2010 for his work on American Idol. The sets for such TV series as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance and The Biggest Loser are his creations.

The descendant of a long line of stage performers in Blackpool, England, Walmsley was a frequent visitor to Vegas dating back to the 1990s and moved to the city a decade ago. Since, he has designed sets for more than a dozen Vegas shows, including Nathan Burton’s comedy-magic show at Flamingo Las Vegas, Terry Fator’s production at the Mirage and Human Nature’s Motown tribute at the Venetian.

In his time here, Walmsley has become dually motivated: He wants to be known as more than a set designer and longs to grow into a top-level show producer. And he longs to return to the days of yesteryear on the Strip, when the city’s entertainers, scenesters and assorted hip cats convened regularly to cut each other up and cut each other down.

“I absolutely want to return to the days of Old Vegas,” he says. “I think a lot of people think that would be fantastic.” He also says, “I hope one day to never design another set.”

Those two dreams have hit their apex in Showbiz Roast. The second of these throwback events takes place July 23 at Stratosphere Showroom, with Oscar Goodman as the roastee. The show starts with a pre-show party at 9:30 p.m., an event unto itself featuring Elvis and Liberace look-alikes and an improv-comedy group called Live From the Red Bath Mat, which performs spot-on interviews on ... a red bath mat. The show itself begins at 10:45 p.m., and Walmsley plans to keep the roasters at their 2- and 4-minute time allotments by using a podium outfitted with sirens and flashing lights. Go over the limit, and all hell breaks loose.

Goodman agreed to the roast on the condition that his chosen charity, the Miracle League of Las Vegas, would benefit. Also eager to promote his memoir, Being Oscar, the ex-mayor is as curious about the event as anyone. Last week during a promotional video shoot at Oscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads restaurant, Goodman turned to Walmsley and asked, “Is anyone going to show up to this?”

Walmsley chuckled and said, “We’ll fill the room, don’t worry.”

There is a high volume and range of entertainers and assorted familiar names to skewer Goodman in the spirit of the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (and newer Comedy Central roasts). The roastmaster is Murray SawChuck, comic magician at the Tropicana’s Laugh Factory. The lineup of roasters includes Mac King, Clint Holmes, Pia Zadora, Rich Little, Steve Rossi, the Amazing Johnathan, chef Carla Pellegrino, Rick’s Restorations star Rick Dale, KLUC DJ Chet Buchanan and Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke. Lon Bronson will front the house band, and “surprise guests” are promised.

Walmsley has summoned about every connection he has in the Vegas entertainment community to assemble (or, if you will, build) this lineup and the previous Showbiz Roast cast in April, which roasted Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie. The Stratosphere is thrilled to stage the show, as it is the center of media coverage through each event and also keeps profits from drink sales—both from the pre-party and the production itself. A portion of the ticket sales will go to Walmsley, to offset losses he calculates at $30,000 over the two roasts. He pays out of pocket for the pre-show entertainment, the house band, the red-carpet set, the onstage bar (which is not furnished by the hotel), and even such overlooked items as decorative balloons.

“All the little things add up,” he says. “It really does. I mean, $1,200 for balloons, $3,400 to have a red carpet built. People ask how you can spend so much money. That’s how.”

Walmsley’s dream is to keep the roast’s momentum strong enough to one day invite the most appealing stars of the Strip (Carrot Top, David Copperfield, Criss Angel, Donny & Marie, Holly Madison and Penn & Teller are on what he calls the “Dream List”). It would be a monumental achievement to produce four such roasts per year.

“If it grows, the level of celebrity will also grow and so will the interest of people who are in the show business community,” he says. “It’s one of those things that needs to grow.”

Showbiz Roast Oscar Goodman, July 23, 9:30 p.m., $30-$40. Stratosphere, 380-7777

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