There’s no mistaking Brad Garrett when he walks into a room. He’s 6 feet 8 inches tall, and his famously low, rumbling voice easily penetrates walls. It is when he gets into his stand-up routine that you may find him unrecognizable. Garrett is known for playing Raymond’s softhearted, bumbling brother, Robert, on Everybody Loves Raymond, but the actor is completely upfront when he says people are shocked to find he’s not Robert after all. His stand-up isn’t dopey sweet; it’s sharp, self-deprecating, jaded humor that may not be very recognizable for fans of the show, and for Garrett that’s OK. His mantra: You can’t please everyone. And maybe that’s why Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the Tropicana offers a money-back guarantee.
How does Robert affect the expectations for your stand-up?
Of course, they welcome you into their homes for nine years and they expect that that’s you. They call you Robert, they think you’re Robert, and at the end of the day that’s not a bad thing. That means you did your job well and you were on a hit and America bought it. There are people who come to the show that are fans, and I even do a little bit about it in my act: “It’s not Robert; you may be expecting Robert …” I’m an actor, so I get hired to play people unlike myself, and I love that. That’s what’s great about stand-up, it’s a whole different form. It’s the skydiving of show business. There’s nothing like it, and it’s different every night. You never have it down. It’s one of the few things that keep you humble.
Why open a club in Las Vegas, versus a city like Los Angeles?
There’s no town for entertainment like Vegas. I’ve been in this town for 25 years, and I just have a real love for the city. I have a lot of family in Vegas, and I was finding myself performing in Vegas four to five months a year. So I figured if you’re going to go, why not go big?
There are a lot of clubs on the Strip. How can you compete?
We’re just trying to get by Hooters right now. Comedy is an amazing escape. It’s needed daily. You’ll always have the comedy aficionados, the ones who will know the names. There will never be a comedy heyday like there was when I started in the 1980s because of where we’ve gone now with cable and the Internet. We’re just entrenched in so many different kinds of media. I think it’ll come back, but it’ll never be what it was. That’s why we have to bring the best guys and gals we can to the stage on a nightly basis.
Have you had to adjust your expectations?
Not really. I just had to plunk a lot more money into it to get it going. It’s taken a little longer than I thought to catch on. It’s been a lot more competitive than I thought it would be. In reality there are six comedy clubs on the Strip. I believe we’re on one of the best corners in Las Vegas, there’s no question about it. I believe getting the foot traffic in there is crucial. The hotel is having its grand opening in May, the Nikki Beach is going up, the Mob Experience, and all of this is just going to start to generate the buzz we need to get people coming to the property. I think expectations on any business venture are always high. Then, after the hype is off and the passion is leveled out a bit, you have to get down to brass tacks and say, “How do we get people in here?”
What comedians are you most excited about getting onstage?
I’m stuck between a rock and hard place because the big names are all signed with the large hotels. Before I took over the comedy room I was at The Mirage for years, and in order to open the comedy club I had to leave my big-room contract behind. You’re not allowed to play a comedy club and a big room if you’re scheduled—if you want to do a pop-in unannounced, that’s different. I had Kevin Nealon from Saturday Night Live and I had Dom Irrera in and that was great, but there’s a lot of guys who aren’t household names that are selling out around the country. We’ve had Alonzo Bodden and Ralph Harris and Steve White. As people know when they go in there, if you don’t like the show, we’ll give you your money back.
Has anyone asked for their money back?
I think there was one couple that wasn’t happy with the show and we gave them tickets to the new show. We offered them a refund, and they said they’ll take the tickets to a new show. I’ve had people walk out on me, so that’s a part of life. My act is very different. If you’re looking for Robert from Raymond, then it’s not the show for you. My act is very caustic and fun, but you’ve got to have a backbone. People who are fans of my stand-up wait in line to sit in the front row because it’s Gallagher without the mess. You can’t please everyone, but it’s exciting to see people come back.
What is your definition of success?
We’re knee-deep in it. The success right now is over and above what I had imagined. I can’t put a monetary number on it because what I have is comics from all over calling every week to work the room because of the reputation, the audiences, the way they’re treated, the technology that has been put in the room. It’s become a place where comics come and hang.