By Bobbie Katz
Did you hear the one about the longtime comedian who became a partner in a comedy club on the Las Vegas Strip?
He took the gig just for laughs.
Whether performing in or booking the Laugh Factory at the New Tropicana, laughter is Harry Basil’s business -- his only business. And when it comes to the club genre, the comic, who in 2014 celebrated the 30th anniversary of when he first performed in Las Vegas, has a funny story to tell. It’s about how live performance comedy has gone through its cycles but is back bigger and stronger than ever -- and it's packing a great “punch” line.
“Comedy’s experiencing a really big boom,” Basil explains. “Here in Vegas, there is the Aces of Comedy at the Mirage, Lipschtick at The Venetian, Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM, The Improv at Harrah’s, comedians like Dana Carvey and Don Rickles at the Orleans, and the list of performers like Ray Romano, David Spade, and Tim Allen as well as those up-and-coming comics goes on and on. Comedy shows are cheaper to produce and you can present big stars as well as other performers all in one day. That’s what we’re trying to do at the Laugh Factory. For example, previously, we had Murray Sawchuck at 4 p.m., Roseanne Barr at 7 p.m., and then a three-man comedy show following that.
“Comedian Jamie Masada is the owner and creator of Laugh Factory,” he continues. “He debuted it back in 1979 on Sunset Boulevard. He opened it when the Comedy Store wasn’t paying comedians and they went on strike. For years, no one paid attention to this little club Then, from 1989-1994, Comic Strip Live aired on the Fox Network from the club’s Hollywood location. Then, in 2006, Michael Richards used the ‘n’ word on stage at Laugh Factory and got a lot of publicity for doing that. Some famous comedians came out of Laugh Factory and it just grew. Now there are locations in Long Beach, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.”
According to Basil, who was around for the 80’s comedy boom, the live performance genre went into a slump because there was so much comedy on TV. The clubs stopped featuring headliners and started buying up featured acts and MCs and bumping them up to headliners. That’s when audiences got smart and realized that they were not seeing guys with TV credentials but rather guys they went to high school with. Still, the bigger chains stayed strong and the “blue” comics did well, too.
Basil’s own history in the business is an extensive one. Originally from Bergenfield, New Jersey, as a youngster, he turned his backyard into a film studio and shot dozens of super 8 action and horror films. By the age of 17, he had won the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Film Award, which was presented to him by legendary director Otto Preminger. Moving to Hollywood, he created a stand-up comedy act at the world famous Comedy Store. He quickly made a name for himself in the comedy circuit headlining in Las Vegas and in other major venues around the country.
“Opening week at the Comedy Store, it was me, Louie Anderson, Paul Rodriguez, Andrew Dice Clay, Blake Clark, and Jim Carrey,” Basil recalls. “We then came to Las Vegas with a show called ‘Band of Unknown Zanies Invades the Dunes.’ Blake Clark always commented that I was like the social director of the group. I got him a T-shirt that said Harry Basil Daycare. That was 30 years ago. May 2014 was the 30th anniversary of my playing Vegas for the first time.”
Basil was in big demand as an opening act for such stars as Gloria Estefan, Liza Minnelli, the Beach Boys, the Pointer Sisters, Chuck Berry, and Rodney Dangerfield, his hilarious physical act akin to that of being a human movie trailer that took his audiences on a wild romp through current and classic movies accompanied by a trunk of outrageous props and costumes. Added to that were recreations and spoofs of memorable moments from classic hit movies, in which Basil physically and vocally took on a wide variety of unforgettable actors and movie characters, pulling unsuspecting audience members up on stage to act as his co-stars in the process.
“My act is still very physical,” Basil relates. “It’s a combination of Carrot Top and Danny Gans. I still spoof movies and I always put a great monologist on with me or a young guy as a host. I perform at the Laugh Factory in Vegas for a week every three or four months.”
It was Rodney Dangerfield who perhaps gave Basil his biggest break and brought the young comedian full circle to his first love as a child. Dangerfield discovered Basil in the comedy clubs on HBO's The 9th Annual Young Comedians Special. A close friendship developed between the two and Basil became Dangerfield's exclusive opening act for 17 years and was featured in two of the legendary comic’s HBO specials. Ultimately, Basil wrote five movies for Dangerfield and directed the last two before Dangerfield died.
Basil co-wrote and co-produced Dangerfield's movies Ladybugs for Paramount Pictures, Meet Wally Sparks for Trimark, and My Five Wives co-starring Andrew Dice Clay and SNL's Molly Shannon, for Artisan . In all three films, Harry worked closely with legendary Director Sidney Furie through every aspect of the filmmaking process. In 2001, Basil made his feature directing debut with, The 4th Tenor, a romantic opera comedy, starring Rodney Dangerfield and Robert Davi that was released by Warner Bros. He followed that in 2002 with, Back by Midnight, a prison comedy starring Randy Quaid, Kirstie Alley, Harland Williams, Dangerfield, and a whole cast of colorful comedians.
In all, Basil has directed 11 feature films and was also an executive producer and co-writer of Funny Money, a wild farce starring Chevy Chase, Penelope Ann Miller, Armand Assante, Chris Mc Donald and Robert Loggia. He has also appeared in several movies as an actor.
As for whether comedy as changed today, Basil answers, “Comedy is an acquired taste. I’m still booking the older comics because they seem to kill on stage. The younger ones sometimes don’t know how to play to a Vegas audience – they talk about things like texting, pornography, or social media. There are also a lot of older comics who are big in social media, such as Roseanne, Howie Mandel, and Howard Stern. I have a stable of comic regulars. Some names are too big to play our room seven days a night. I won’t get Tim Allen or Kevin Nealon, although I did get Roseanne”
“Comedy now is composed of a lot of different personalities,” he sums up.
And that’s no joke.
This article appears by courtesy of Vegas Insider Daily.com.