While we all realize that Black History happens 365 days a year, iconic comedian George Wallace is currently making a bit of history of his own. The irreverent standup, who often trades good-natured insults and “Yo Mama” jokes” with Jay Anthony Brown on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” has owned and starred in his wildly successful comedy show at the Flamingo Las Vegas for nine years, making him the first African-American Vegas headliner ever to do so.
I recently spoke to Wallace about this groundbreaking achievement, and even when he’s not officially “working,” Wallace’s comedic instincts are always just below the surface. Having forgotten about our interview when I called him in Vegas, he answered the phone in a fake foreign language until he could figure out who I was. Finally convinced that he was speaking to a reporter, he laughed heartily and switched gears into the rapid-fire monologue that has made him one of America’s most successful and beloved comedians.
“I came here for 30 days back in ’03, and I’m still here,” said Wallace, who takes the stage of the Flamingo Showroom at 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. “And I’ll tell you what. It’s been a blessing, because I have now owned, and directed and marketed my own show in Las Vegas longer than any African American or Black person — whatever we want to be, and that includes Redd Foxx and Sammy Davis Jr. “They didn’t own their shows and promote their own shows. I’ve headlined more performances here. I’ve got more shows than anybody. Isn’t that amazing?
“Most entertainers here work for the hotels, but I pay the hotels. Nobody will do that, because you can lose tons of money, [but] you can make tremendous amounts of money, and I’ve been blessed.”
Having attended Wallace’s clean but caustic comedy show in 2005, I would say that
the risk was well worth it. During my stay at the Flamingo, he routinely played to packed houses and diverse audiences, and was often seen in the casino, signing autographs and chatting with his fans.
“I’ve been working every night,” he said. “Redd Foxx and those guys worked here. They worked a week — two weeks, but I’ve been working basically every night headlining here, and right now, I’m the only Black headliner in Las Vegas.”
So just how did Wallace, an American Comedy Award winner (not to mention Jerry Seinfeld’s best friend), parlay a 30-day gig into a nine year engagement? “I rent from the hotel,” he explained. “I went in and I took my show in. I make the roll, I pay everybody — the ushers, the light people, the sound people, I do all of my marketing and advertising. So the reason I’m here is my business sense. Before I started in comedy, I was vice-president of the world’s largest outdoor advertising agency. All of the buses in the top ten markets in America — New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Cleveland — all of that advertising on the buses, I did that, so I knew how to advertise and promote a product. That’s how I promoted myself.
“Then, I’m not like Gladys Knight (who also played the Flamingo Showroom during my 2005 visit) and people like that,” Wallace continued. “They have a whole band you’ve got to pay, and that’s a big expense, but I’m by myself. I said, ‘I’m not going to make any money for the first year. I’m going to put it right back in and build my show.’ If you’re going to have a show in Las Vegas, you’ve got to go out and meet all of the brokers. You’ve got to meet everybody. You’ve got to meet the brokers, you’ve got to meet the hotel concierge — it took that long to build it up, and I still do it once a year. So that’s why I’m still here. There’s show, and then there’s business, and you’ve got to know the business part of the game.”
Wallace maintains that throughout his nine-year tenure at the Flamingo, he has never been at a loss for comedic fodder. “Are you kidding? Herman Cain and President Obama, the Republican candidates — oh my God! And the news, and Tiger Woods, and just living. I love coming up with all these new jokes all the time. It’s a wonderful thing!” he said.
Unable to resist the sweet comedic “set-up” that my question about his material provided, Wallace stated, “The real reason I want Herman Cain back is because I want him to be the Republican candidate, and Barack be the Democrat, and I want to see all the white people. You got two Black people running for president, and they’d go ‘Aw, HELL NO!’ Mexico would have to put up a fence to keep white people out!”
And there’s more where that came from. If you can’t get to Vegas, Wallace may be coming to a city near you.
“I’m taking off 17 weeks from the show in Las Vegas,” he said. “I coming back out into America to reinvent myself, so I hope to get to Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland … I haven’t been to Chicago in 14 years because I’ve been so busy. This is the market that I used to own! Like I said, I came to Las Vegas for 30 days, and I’m into my ninth year! I’m going back to these places and let people know that I’m still kickin’ back — I’m still around!”