There are two performances in a Gordie Brown performance. There’s the one we are watching, boomeranging around the Gordie Brown Showroom at Golden Nugget. The voices and mannerisms of such classic stars as Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Neil Diamond are in this show. And there’s the show that seems to exist in Brown’s brain, where the show we are watching suddenly veers in some unexplained, mystifying direction. Like, when he ducks into a Deepak Chopra impression, speaking in a deep Indian dialect and—keep in mind this is during a Las Vegas stage show—begins to meditate.
The headliner closes his eyes and makes a rhythmic ticking sound as his mantra. The audience laughs as if it doesn’t know what else to do, and Brown says, “I’m sending a message by Morse code.” As it happens, the crowd’s age demo does understand both Chopra and Morse code, and the bit comes off cleanly as he moves seamlessly to a narrative in the voice of Morgan Freeman, noting the unfilled seats in the room and joking that, “This show is sold out, but not everyone is here yet.”
Gordie Brown has recently marked a time in his career in Las Vegas that has no specific calendar peg. He’s advancing toward 2,000 shows since arriving in Las Vegas in 2004. He spent a couple of years at the Golden Nugget, as “Downtown Gordie Brown,” then moved into a theater built for his residency at the Venetian. That venue is now the Sands Showroom, occupied by Human Nature. Brown’s run on the Strip lasted less than a year, when Wayne Brady’s show took over and Brown moved to V Theater at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops, and finally back to Golden Nugget in 2009.
The lineup of Brown’s impressions are characteristic of someone performing a tribute show, but what he does with them is something to behold. He poses as Michael Jackson while pointing to the door leading out of the showroom, helping a ticketholder find her way to the bathroom. “It’s that way,” he says, nodding his head in a Jackson dance move. He drops to his knees and performs as Paul Simon as a stand-up comic, telling a Viagra joke in a bit that has been a favorite for at least a decade.
He plays an acoustic guitar as an enfeebled Neil Young, warbling, “I keep on searching for a heart that beats—more than once a week.” He evokes Diamond, but allows, “This is where I’ll pause as the younger people can Google who the hell Neil Diamond is.”
Brown performs improv in such a way that the laughs are incidental. He often spouts off to his band and to the stage crew, wandering from any script or outline. “The lights, they are stuck again and making that sound,” he says, noting a whine emanating from above. He catches his backing musicians off-guard when asking for a B-flat minor. “What are we doing? This is the band, waiting for the check to clear …” then he manages Johnny Mathis singing Led Zeppelin’s, “Stairway to Heaven.” He performs a quick take on a rare female voice, Cher, and then as cartoon character Scooby-Doo suffering from the vocal condition “Vegas throat,” then to Axl Rose.
Away from the stage, Brown talks of his long-running Vegas show. He isn’t interested in numbers—being called the man of 1,013 voices or notching his 1,740th show in Las Vegas. A PR campaign to celebrate “Gordie at 1,740” was postponed for seven weeks, ostensibly so he could develop a new version of the show. But when Brown’s media night rolled around, he told an audience filled with his many friends in the Vegas entertainment industry (including long-ago Golden Nugget headliner Clint Holmes and the legendary comic Marty Allen), “I read where I have new sh*t in the show ... I don’t have new sh*t. Too much pressure! Can’t I just have a party?”
It’s not so easy to work a new portrayal into the show. He could evoke Martin from Coldplay, distinctive for his flailing arms and penchant for splaying across the stage. “I could spend all this time perfecting that act, but who cares?” Brown asks rhetorically, knowing that he could simply stand in a Bruce Springsteen pose and shout, “Glory Days!” and get a far stronger response.
So what works for Brown will continue to work. Expect variations of Sammy Davis Jr., looking forward and pointing to his right because of the famous glass eye; Tony Bennett and Ray Charles. At the end of his show he summons Elvis, almost in a required fashion, slipping on a pair of cheap sunglasses that could have been picked up at a Fremont Street gift shop and using a strand of toilet paper as his scarf.
“I’m not a big prop guy, and I’ve done Elvis with the glasses and without,” Brown says later. “You know what? Without the glasses, I get the same laughs.”
By now the Golden Nugget headliner has figured it out: If he’s having a good time in his home entertainment center of a brain, you will, too.
Gordie Brown Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday & Sunday, 7:30 p.m., $30-$65. Golden Nugget, 866-946-5336.