Packed Stratosphere house is treated to some serious burning at first ‘Showbiz Roast’

Vinnie Favorito, making friends and influencing people, at “The Showbiz Roast” at the Stratosphere.
Photo: Gabe Ginsberg / Vegas Kool

‘Showbiz Roast’ of Chris Phillips

It’s been a long spell since I’ve been hung over, but I feel that way today. Or maybe I am suffering from a “roast over.”

We took care of the first “Showbiz Roast” on Tuesday night, and it was a real humdinger. An audience of 415 of the VegasVille’s most fervent scene-stalkers were able to afford the no-cover show and filed into the Stratosphere Showroom to flay Zowie Bowie Chris Phillips. Maybe we’ll start calling him Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie, given his singular identity is separate from the act he fronts at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort each Friday night. The Zowie Bowie title has always been a source of confusion, which is one of Phillips’ more endearing qualities, actually.

The evening was something of a blur. I was onstage and joined by roasters Vinnie Favorito, George Wallace, Gordie Brown, Robin Leach, Dennis Bono, Clint Holmes, Kelly Clinton-Holmes, Murray Sawchuck, vocal group BBR, Justin Spencer of Recycled Percussion, Frankie Scinta, Brian Thomas and Dayna Roselli. The roast master was Four Queens comic magician Mike Hammer.

It’s a strange feeling to be onstage with actual entertainers. There is no escaping the acute stage fright at one of these freewheeling rip-fests. It didn’t help that the gentlemen I was seated next to, Sawchuck and Spencer, also were clearly edgy as the night unfolded. Sawchuck, who headlines at the Laugh Factory at Tropicana, said afterward it was the most nervous he’s been before a performance since appearing on “America’s Got Talent.”

But you know what cures stage fright? Time. If you’re onstage for 90 minutes of a 2 ½-hour show, the nervousness just ebbs away. The show did run long, but it also was, often, really funny. That seemed the general feeling among the hundreds who filed out of the Strat, many after 3 a.m.

I did not take hand notes from the stage and am going off my own general sense of the evening, but I can tell you there were many moments that popped over the course of the show (which kicked off about 45 minutes later than its 11 p.m. scheduled start and ran beyond 2 hours; I left the hotel just before 3 a.m.).

Kelly Clinton-Holmes used a devastating video clip of her impersonating Phillips on her Vegas Video Network talk show “Talktails,” quaffing Crown Royal and laughing for no evident reason. The segment closed with a young girl sitting in the interview seat with the name “Lydia Ansel” printed on the graphic. Clinton-Holmes kept a running theme of Chris-is-gay shtick afloat by saying she had “auditioned to be Chris’ beard.”

Brown dug at Phillips for maintaining his energy despite a grueling schedule of “one show a week.” He also jabbed at Roselli by performing a quick impression of a member of the “Jersey Boys” cast; Roselli is currently dating “J.B.” cast member Deven May.

Brian Thomas, the former Lucky the Leprechaun at O’Shea’s and “Lowercase g” at KISS by Monster Mini Golf, dressed as an over-tanned, spiky-wigged Mini-Me version of Phillips, all dolled up in a black suit, red shirt and junk jewelry. Sort of a lounge version of an Oompa Loompa. He threw a diva fit, littered with profanities, when Hammer brought out a stool for him to use at the podium.

Holmes turned in a wickedly effective turn on Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?” His custom-fitted lyric: “Does anybody really know who Zowie Bowie is? Does anybody really care?” BBR sang a specialized song, too, “Tanningman” to Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman.” A couple of characters from “Nunsense” and a quartet of dancers from Thunder From Down Under also turned up, dancing around the ever-gyrating roastee, who was (for the most part) confined to the throne designed by Andy Walmsley, who put on the show.

Spencer stripped to a diaper, evidently to ensure that Phillips felt at home because of Phillips’ affinity for dating women far younger than he, and also produced a stack of printed documents mapping out all of the middle schools and high schools within driving distance of the Stratosphere.

There were a couple of moments where I thought, “Are we really gonna go there?” both from Favorito. He’s the wild card in such events because he is a professional roaster — one of the greats — and sets his own boundaries. He dug into Holmes’ for his divorce, asking, “Whatever happened to the first Mrs. Holmes?” The tropical storm of insults continued as Favorito called out to Brown, “Whenever I see your act, it reminds me of how much I miss Danny Gans … I hope you follow in his footsteps!” One of the city’s most successful impressionists, Gans died in 2009.

Where to set the bounds, or even if, is to be sorted out for the second “Showbiz Roast,” which Walmsley says he hopes to stage in the next couple of months. He is targeting Frank Marino of “Divas Las Vegas,” which would likely be held at the Quad, as that is the home of “Divas” these days.

Marino would be an appropriate roastee, and certainly a panel of roasters would be easy enough to recruit for a proper skewering. But it is important to remember, this is a roast. Expect to be burned. Those are the rules.

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