The post-show party is in full flourish. The music of Queen booms over the sound system in Carrot Top’s dressing room, appropriately, as he’s friends with that band’s great drummer, Roger Taylor. In this fête we find another drumming legend, Pantera founder Vinnie Paul, picking over the cheese tray with one hand and clutching a 48-ounce cocktail with the other.
A very real rock star, Paul has seen C.T.’s show more than 300 times. Count him among the indoctrinated.
The place is otherwise slammed, as friends nudge toward the forever orange-maned comic with the given name Scott Thompson. Everyone wants a shot with Carrot Top, who is conferring closely with his mother, Dona, and his brother, Garrett, a commercial pilot sometimes referred to as Garrett Top.
They come from all walks of life, these fans of Carrot Top. Over his career, Thompson has amassed a wide assortment of supporters, among them NASCAR drivers, country-music superstars (especially Toby Keith) hard rockers (especially performers from Raiding the Rock Vault), hip-hop icons (especially Flavor Flav, who showed up at a show a few weeks ago and sparked bedlam through the audience), casino executives and many fellow comics.
“Where are Louie and Ron?” Carrot Top asks. “Did they make it here?” That reference is to comic colleagues Anderson and White. A few feet away, under one of C.T.’s barstools, rests a large, brown carry-on bag that looks made from a onetime eel and seems like it belongs in the comic’s stage show. I call over, “Hey, is this a prop? It looks like it could hold an entire body!” And the person who belongs to that bag is … Nicolas Cage, who offers, “I wouldn’t have missed this. Scott is one of my best friends.”
So there you have the scene after the scene. “This,” as Cage notes, is the night of Carrot Top’s 10th anniversary performance at the Luxor’s Atrium Showroom, where simultaneously we’ve learned that his contract has been extended five years through December 2020. But this is far from the 10th anniversary of the 50-year-old Topper’s debut as a standup, as he is fast to remind, which was actually 1986. And C.T. also readily recalls the period of time in Vegas before the Luxor, when he headlined at MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater (now David Copperfield Theater) beginning in the mid-1990s.
I met him in 2002, having been reluctant to see his show because all I knew about Carrot Top during this period were his 1-800-CALL-ATT commercials. If ever there were a series of ads that did more harm than good to the featured subject, it was that one (in one spot, Carrot Top is shown pecking at the buttons on a pay phone with a hockey stick while wearing a full hockey uniform and is penalized for “bad acting” before falling to the ice).
Our first meeting at the MGM Grand was before his show at Hollywood Theater, and I was relieved to learn how smart and schooled he was in his craft. He talked of the great storytelling of George Carlin and how Steve Martin intelligently blended props with written material in his stand-up act. In a quote I’ve always remembered, “You won’t see me hold up a shoe and a horn and say, ‘It’s a shoehorn! Get it?’”
In the first five minutes of his show that night, I was hooked. The frenetic pace of the props pulled from a dozen trunks spread across the stage took the audience’s breath away. This same early segment sets the stage in Carrot Top’s show at the Luxor, but he’s a far more refined comic than he was 15 or 20 years ago.
“I’m able to deal with the show when it’s not working, that’s the biggest difference,” he says, his voice rising above the din of the dozens filing into his dressing room. “I’m using sarcasm a lot more and am more comfortable with it,” Thompson says “When a joke doesn’t work, I’ll just say, ‘I’m not too impressed with you f*cking people, either,’ and it gets a big laugh.”
What remains is Carrot Top’s image, which is futile to define. In a separate interview, years ago, he offered, “I’m funny and goofy, and yet in shape. I’ve got the long hair and kind of androgynous look. It’s love-hate; it’s sexy, but not sexy. So it’s either you get it or you don’t. It’s old-young. Child-adult. Stupid-smart. Corny-hip.”
Through all of that meticulous image management, maturing has benefitted Thompson. He says that turning 50 has led him to become more introspective. “I’m finally able to appreciate the fact that I have this great job and I love what I do. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and I don’t have any other answer as to why that is.”
That wasn’t always the case. Thompson often took on the personality of the tormented clown. Years ago, he often brooded after shows when the audience was tight, even if he was the only one to detect that problem. Occasionally he would cut short his backstage meet-and-greets with friends so he could decompress after what he deemed poor performances.
“Back in the day, to be honest with you—especially in the MGM Grand days—I didn’t have the confidence I have now, or whatever it is,” Thompson says. “Every little thing would bother me. I remember one night after a show, running back to my dressing room, literally, in my Mick Jagger tights [which he still wears in his rocking finale], back to my room, down the hallway from the back elevator. The employees were like, ‘What the hell is happening?’ Still in my costume, in my stupid glitter socks, because I had a bad show.”
He laughs and says, “I couldn’t figure out why I needed to kill every night, but that’s how I was. One day, finally, it dawned on me that you can’t be Elvis every night. To have those off nights kind of makes you stronger, and I’ve learned a lot about working a crowd now, which I never appreciated before.”
This night’s show was a nostalgic trek, as Thompson pulled a trunk full of props from his very first performances. In the mix was the first prop he ever used onstage, a Neighborhood Watch sign.
“Where did I get this? I stole it!” is the 30-year-old joke. “You’d better laugh! It took me three hours to unbolt this thing!”
“I didn’t even remember all these props from ’86, and when I’m pulling them out I’m trying to remember the jokes,” Thompson said. “I didn’t remember all of them, but they still work.” So, too, does Carrot Top, who manages to defy time and classification. Like the comic, the laughs never get old.
Carrot Top Monday & Wednesday-Sunday, 8 p.m., $55-$65. Luxor, 702-262-4400.