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David Brenner kept Las Vegas audiences laughing

Apr 1, 2014 3:00 AM

It doesn’t get much than better listening to show-biz stories from David Brenner and Shecky Greene in a Las Vegas coffee shop. It wasn’t that long ago I was doing just that, so I was shocked when I heard David Brenner lost his battle with cancer at age 78.

In a statement, his family said he left a last laugh: A final request that $100 in small bills be placed in his left sock “just in case tipping is recommended where I’m going.”

When he was promoting his last engagement at the Suncoast showroom, I was fortunate enough to have interviewed him. In that interview Brenner talked about how his father taught him to always leave the audience laughing. And he did...even till the very end. I reran that interview on March 20, in David’s memory. The audio is archived on lasvegasbackstagetalk.com.

After interviewing countless comedians and singers on LVBST for almost three years and also watching their shows, I started to realize artists and audiences often have very different agendas. Audiences always want to be entertained and look forward to hearing their favorite bits or hits of the artist they pay to go see. Artists want to entertain but also want to grow and continue to evolve, develop and explore.

With the double-edged sword of name recognition and fame come expectations from fans of what that artist often perceives as keeping them stuck in the past, pigeon-holed. Finding that perfect balance of “old” and “new” is the answer to satisfying both the audience and the artist, whether a comedian or a singer.

Tom Jones is a perfect example of someone who has mastered not only combining old with new, but also re-inventing his band and updating his bluesy arrangements, keeping his material fresh yet in-step with his brand, which also keeps him relevant.

A crowd-pleaser like Tony Orlando, who is known for opening his show with his biggest hits then following up with everything from Led Zeppelin, to The Beatles, always delivers a feel-good contemporary show, is always “on,” and has that special connection with his loyal audience, which explains his lasting popularity and sell-out performances.

Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld are examples of comedians who are committed to keeping their material updated and presentation smooth. They take pride in the quality of their shows without sacrificing laughs.

Paula Poundstone, Chuck Negron, Mickey Gilley, Marty Allen, Rich Little, Gallagher, Gary Puckett, Carlos Mencia and Judy Tenuta are all examples of artists who not only embrace their audience but also include a “meet and greet” following every show.

Another performer who is very pro-audience and eager to please is Burton Cummings, former lead singer for the Guess Who. Cummings sang hit after hit when headlining at The Orleans in January, and received several standing ovations throughout. He even allowed flash photography during his performance and went as far as inviting fans to videotape the show! However, not all artists are even close to being as giving and grateful on and off stage, committed to taking the audience up as high as they can.

Helen Reddy, pop star of the 70’s, had a packed house. Before the show began at The Orleans theatre, I over-heard audience members anticipating which hit Reddy might open with. But no one called it right! She didn’t sing any hits until 40 minutes into the show.

Although her voice sounded as good ever, the fans who came out expecting to hear her many, many hits were clearly out of luck, I counted three hits in total, including the iconic and mandatory, “I Am Woman.” Oh, and of course, no pictures or autographs for anyone – no exceptions; and certainly no backstage passes!

I can’t say I was that surprised because when I interviewed Reddy a couple of weeks prior to the show, and asked why she had quit the business and stopped singing for over ten years, she replied, “I was bored. I was tired of singing the same songs over and over again.”

Then I asked why she decided to return. She said, “I was at my older sister’s 80th birthday party, and she asked me to do her a favor and sing a duet with her…and you don’t turn down your big sister…so I sang…got a huge standing ovation, and I heard my voice coming out of the monitor and thought, ‘gee, that’s not so bad…maybe I should go out and do that again’…and here I am.”

Before the interview, I asked Reddy if she would be gambling while in Vegas? Her reply: “I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I’m celibate!” Not exactly what I was expecting!

Immediately I recalled a videotaped interview I did with comedian Sal Richards in which I asked if there was a celebrity he worked with who wasn’t what he expected them to be. His immediate reply was, “Yes, Helen Reddy!” The story he told about her was pretty outrageous and shocking! It shows what can go on behind the scenes in show business. It is posted on GamingToday.com and promises not to disappoint!

Singing funnyman Michael Shane was such a hit at Bootlegger Bistro on Thursday nights that he is “back by popular demand” on every Friday and Saturday in April from 6:30 p.m. on. He will be taking your requests and is very difficult to stump! The food is great, especially the pizza, and you’ll be thoroughly entertained.

My picks for April are Ray Romano/Kevin James, April 4 and 6, Mirage; Rob Thomas, April 4, Palms; DL Hughley, April 4 and 5, Orleans; Gary Lewis & The Playboys, April 4 and 5, Suncoast; Brian McKnight, April 5, Eastside Cannery; Jeff Ross, April 5, Mirage;

Olivia Newton-John, April 8-12, Flamingo; Jason Alexander, April 11-May 4, Harrah’s; Wayne Brady, April 11, Mirage; Bryan Ferry, April 12, Palms; Jay Leno, April 12, Mirage; Foghat, April 12, Cannery; Las Vegas Soul Festival, April 12, UNLV;

Megadeth and Motorhead, April 17, Palms; The Bronx Wanderers, April 18-20, South Point; Gabriel Iglesias, April 18 and 19, Mirage; Jim Belushi & Chicago Board of Comedy, April 18 and 19, Venetian; Robert Cray, April 18, Cannery; Restless Heart/Sawyer Brown, April 19, Eastside Cannery;

Jeff Tracta, April 24, LVH; Tony Orlando, April 25-27, South Point; Bobby Rydell, April 25-27, Suncoast; Tracy Morgan, April 25, TI; Little River Band, April 26, Cannery; Temptations, April 26 and 27, Orleans; Rod Stewart, April 30-May 17, Caesars Palace.

Visit Michele's webiste at LasVegasBackStageTalk.comContact Michele at [email protected].

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