They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and sometimes it’s damn good entertainment, too. In The Paul Lynde Show, veteran comedian Michael Airington pays raucous tribute to Lynde, whose lengthy career included the Broadway and Hollywood versions of Bye Bye Birdie, the sitcom Bewitched, the game show Hollywood Squares and voices on cartoons like Charlotte’s Web. Lynde’s snarky, campy persona and outrageous double entendre filled ’70s prime time and brought a gay sensibility to a crowd that wasn’t quite sure what it was seeing, but laughed anyway.
Airington captures his subject down to the slightest mannerism but also creates Lynde the character—and makes him engaging, endearing and drop-your-Bloody Mary funny even to those who aren’t familiar with the original. After runs in Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs, The Paul Lynde Show makes the move to Las Vegas. Airington talked to Vegas Seven about how it’s been a “full circle” journey.
This isn’t his first time at the rodeo … It was a dream to come back and be in Vegas. I was here as a kid, in 1981. I was one of the youngest stand-up comedians in America. I was 15 years old, I got discovered by Mel Tillis, and then I was opening for Rosemary Clooney for two summers. I was just a little baby doing impressions.
Wayne Newton, he kept on saying, “Why do I know you? Why do I know you? I know I know you.” I [said], “Wayne, I was a kid. I used to open, I used to go on between Dottie and Mel Tillis, across the street at the Frontier. I would come across the street and they would sneak me into the Copa. I got to watch you perform, and I met you a few times.” He said, “Oh, my God.”
“The millennials like it; they’re laughing their asses off. What’s funny is funny. One of the bartenders—he’s 25—and his exact words, “I don’t know who the fuck Paul is, but oh, my God, I can’t stop laughing.” – Michael Airington
The longest journey starts with a single theater ticket … Everybody does a Paul Lynde impression. I mean, even Michael Feinstein does a Paul Lynde impression in his act. It’s just one of those crazy voices that is just funny. He’s one of the biggest stars in the ’70s. Once you hear the voice, you know who it is.
I’d seen Frank Gorshin do Say Goodnight Gracie, which was the one-man show about George Burns. I saw the final show at the Helen Hayes Theater, came out and [said], “Oh, my God, I can do a show like this with Paul Lynde,” and that was the beginning of the thought process. It was a 13-year journey from the time I came up with the idea. I’ve been through crazy investors, three incarnations of the show, went through the recession, and it has evolved.
Lynde was a groundbreaker, even if many didn’t quite acknowledge it … In 1976, he was one of the first people on the cover of People magazine. I have the actual magazine. There he is—and then there’s this picture of him with this beautiful man: “Not only is Mark his hairdresser, but he’s also his suitemate on the road.” [Laughs] Even when I was touring with it, after the show a lot of older gay men will come up and [say], “You took me back to a time where I knew I wasn’t alone. Paul Lynde had to have been one of us.” That’s how I came up with the line, “I think I made the world a safer place for sissies.”
Like Lynde, the show draws a wide audience … The millennials like it; they’re laughing their asses off. What’s funny is funny. One of the bartenders—he’s 25—and his exact words, “I don’t know who the fuck Paul is, but oh, my God, I can’t stop laughing.” Somebody came up to me yesterday and said, “I got tears when you say goodbye to Peter Marshall, and we do the whole ‘I am what I am’ at the end.” Straight couples that come up to me and [say], “You took us back to our teenage years.”
Here I am, full circle, back in Vegas, and this time I’m a headliner. We got here, and I’m still pinching myself when I go out onstage.
The Paul Lynde Show
Windows Showroom at Bally’s Las Vegas, Mon., Wed., Sat.–Sun., 2 p.m. & Thurs., 4 p.m., Tickets start at $43 plus tax and fees, caesars.com/ballys