Brad Garrett is seated in a VIP booth in his MGM Grand comedy club. The stage is maybe 20 feet away, close enough to envision how imposing the 6-foot-8 inch comic will be when he tears into his act. The familiar “BG” logo ripples along the new black velvet curtain.
Garrett is not making jokes, at the moment. Sounding like a grizzled Las Vegas bingo caller, he’s shouting out numbers. “Try 20! Go to 25! Now 30!” This is the percentage of available light to set the mood for the audience’s walk-in, the way Garrett will set the stage for his new stage.
Clearly, Garrett is involved in every dang detail, from the position of the art around the room, most of them paintings his favorite artist, Steve Altman. The tables, chairs and booths are all his concepts. To borrow a line from the man for whom he once opened, Frank Sinatra, “We even picked out the furniture.”
All this activity is to meet the deadline for the reopening of Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club this weekend, with Garrett hosting a show with headliner Butch Bradley and featuring Trixx, both Vegas vets. Showtimes in the new place are 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Garrett’s new comedy haunt is on some choice real estate, on the MGM Grand’s casino level, along restaurant row and on the walk to the Grand Garden Arena. The club has taken over former China Tang space, across from Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak and Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House. Garrett has hauled out of his Underground space, where he operated for nearly a decade after opening in March 2012 (after two years running what is now Laugh Factory at the Trop).
When China Tang closed in February 2020, opportunity knocked (or, called) for Garrett.
“MGM called and they said, ‘Do you have Ray’s number?’” Garrett jokes, referring to the “Everybody Loves Raymond” sitcom star and good friend Ray Romano. “I said, ‘No, but I’m working his gift shop, how can I help you?’”
By partnering in the just-vacant space. Garrett’s new room seats about 210 for comedy, roughly 40 fewer than the underground locale. But he can pack about 85 ticket holders into the lounge at the entrance, where vintage Vegas performers George Bugatti, Laura Shaffer, Wes Winters, Vanessa LeGrand, Doug Taylor and Trey Ordaz will perform before the funny starts.
“It’s completely that iconic type of room, you know?” Garrett says. “In order to have that music room, I had to keep the seating down in the comedy room. It’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Garrett has business challenges, of course. Fewer seats means an emphasis on selling the room even when Garrett is not performing. Garrett plans to bump the numbers by appearing monthly himself. “We think we’ll get a lot more walk-in business just because of our location,” he says.
No ‘woke’ here
There is, too, the issue of Garrett’s material. He claims, “I don’t have an act,” but the comic is famous for eviscerating any cultural demographic. Insult comedy is also classic Vegas, as Don Rickles ascended from Sahara’s Casbar Lounge by destroying audiences in the 1960s. But today’s comics are aware that audiences can recoil at Garrett’s flavor of stereotypical humor.
“I’m not very woke. I just go for the funny,” Garrett says. “But I’ve got to be honest. A lot of people, after COVID, were asking, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘It’s what I’ve done my whole life.’ Now, we might be in a climate where people in society think it’s this or that, but that’s the act I’ve done my whole life. That’s been my style.”
Garrett has also made the tough calls as a club operator. He’s requiring his crew to be vaccinated for COVID. He’s vaccinated (with the booster) himself. And, the incoming comics need to be vaxed, or they won’t be booked. That policy has led to Garrett’s original New Year’s Eve headliner, anti-vaccination crusader Rob Schneider, being taken off the schedule. This, even as Garrett says, “I am a huge fan” of Schneider’s act.
“You have to have, and I just have to use this word, respect, for other people,” Garrett says. “It’s not just about me. I’m meeting families. I’m meeting people’s children. I’m around thousands of people a week. Yeah, I would feel terrible if I did something harmful to them. I’m not preaching here. It’s just, how do we keep everyone safe? You’ve got to be vaxed.”
Ring in the new club
Garrett is a married gentleman today. He and IsaBeall Quella were married on Nov. 11 (as in, 11-11, make a wish) in Santa Barbara. The couple have been together for 13 years and had four other wedding dates and sites undercut.
“It was the fifth attempt, we had the fires cancel us in Malibu, then the mudslides after the fire took out the next venue,” Garrett says. “She kept using excuses, like, ‘The Beatles broke up, I’m just not myself.’ That was kind of a red flag.”
But he does shoot straight when talking about his life, now, as a Vegas headliner and club operator.
“You know, I’m not the best when it comes to relationships,” Garrett says. “But, boy — I know this sounds corny, but my goodness, it’s just amazing. You just know when it’s right.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.