The best comedy clubs in Las Vegas today are the Improv at Harrah’s, the Riviera Comedy Club, the Comedy Stop at the Trop (Tropicana), Second City at the Flamingo, and LA Comedy Club at Planet Hollywood. Let’s take a quick look at the fascinating history of comedy clubs in Vegas.
Since the mid-1950s, Sin City comedy clubs have been the birthing, training and career launching pads for some of America’s top stand-up comedians. Then, and continuing today, there were three distinct levels for comedy performances. At the top were the resort showrooms, next the permanent comedian gigs, and the bottom the comedy clubs. Major comedians of the early Vegas era, including Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, George Burns, Martin and Lewis, Red Skelton, Milton Berle and others of high standing, always performed at resort showrooms. Lesser comedians or singers often opened for the major stars. That meant doing 15 minutes of so until the major star took overu.
Similarly, current top-ranked comedians appear in high-priced Las Vegas Strip hotel resorts. They include Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, George Lopez and others who can draw large audiences and command the highest fees. Most of the top comedians appear for just a few nights at a time, four or five times a year, and earn as much as $1 million a year for their brief Vegas visits. Their tickets sell for from $100 on up to whatever
the market can bear.
Just below in the Las Vegas comedy pecking order are the permanent performers who do their acts five or six nights a week for several years at a major hotel showroom. Among current stand-up comedians now in those long-lasting gigs are Rita Rudner at Harrah’s, George Wallace at the Flamingo, Penn and Teller at the Rio and Carrot Top at Luxor. They earn upwards from $500,000 annually, and unlike most
comedians who are always on the road doing short gigs and then moving on to another town, they can establish permanent family homes in Vegas. Their show tickets sell for from $50 to $100.
At the basic level are the comedians who perform at bare-bones Las Vegas comedy clubs. Many of today’s top comedians who’ve gone on to major movie and TV fame started at comedy clubs. In the 1960s and 1970s, and if they were lucky, they earned from $50 to $100 a night. Starting out then were Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Rosanne Barr, Robin Williams, George Lopez and others who eventually made it to the big time.
The scene is just about the same today: the big stars get big salaries for performing at the big resorts’ theaters. And every night, at any of Sin City’s 40 or so comedy clubs, mostly in hotel lounges, storefronts and small showrooms, there are four or five stand-up comedians hoping to make it to the financial and star status of Leno or Seinfeld. Tickets to these shows sell for from $25 to $50.
A very dear family member appears several times a year for a week onstage each at Harrah’s Improv and the Riviera Comedy Club. For such gigs, the weekly pay ranges from $500 to $1,000, and not too bad because it also includes a room at the hotel, all meals and free tickets for visiting relatives.