George Wallace has been making audiences laugh for decades, much of that as a Las Vegas headliner. With his new residency, WALLACE @ WESTGATE, the man who’s “been thinking,” sure has an awful lot to say. Recently, ShulmanSays sat-down with Wallace, inside the Westgate Cabaret at Westgate Las Vegas, where audiences are treated to his insightful and sometimes frustrated observations, for up to five nights each week (when he’s not touring). Here’s what transpired.
ShulmanSays: When you were a young touring comedian, what are some of the funnier things that you experienced on the road?
George Wallace: Okay. As a funny, young, touring guy, I was different than most entertainers or comedians that you see because I started my first night at work, I did The Tonight Show; and the next night I was opening for Natalie Cole, in front of 17,000!
SS: No shame in that game!
GW: Now, when you did The Tonight Show - overnight, Bam! You just went to work. So, that’s what I did with Natalie Cole. I toured with George Benson. I was with Diana Ross for a year and a half. I did something with Smokey Robinson. I’ve worked with everyone.
SS: You’ve been very fortunate.
GW: “I am Woman” – what was that lady’s name?
SS: Helen Reddy?
GW: Yeah, I worked with Helen Reddy. I was with Tom Jones for five and a half years. And that's all I ever wanted to do.
SS: Well, that's not unusual.
GW: (laughs) That's all I ever wanted to be. I never wanted to be any TV, any movie things and I just wanted to be an opening-- not an opening-- I just wanted to be a comedian. Because I'd heard-- we'd heard once that there are comedians in Las Vegas that made like $400,000 a year. So when you coming out of college or whatever, $400,000 a year is a lot of money no matter who you are. Those are people like Shecky Greene and Jackie Mason – the people who were working here a long time ago – and they would make a half a million dollars a year. And, hell, anybody can live off a half a million dollars a year. If you make a half a million dollars a year, you’re just as rich as anybody else.
So that's all I ever wanted to do and I'm living my dream. I came here and I'm with Diana Ross at Caesars Palace. I took Tom Jones, too. Now, they come visit me. We visit each other.
SS: I actually just saw Diana Ross open the Hollywood Bowl, and she was phenomenal.
GW: Still the same, right?
SS: Better, actually. Her voice seems to have become more full.
GW: Isn't that amazing?
SS: And now, she did all of these very lush and symphonic arrangements of songs that she isn’t able to do at her Vegas residency; because you've got people flying in from all over the world, and if she doesn't do the Supremes classics, and the Motown hits, and the Disco standards, those queens would revolt.
GW: She gotta stay right there.
SS: You’d have some very pissed-off queens.
GW: Oh, yeah!
SS: So she was with Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and a 20-piece gospel choir, and it was all very orchestral. And then she did a 10 or 15-minute version of “Amazing Grace”.
GW: Really? That’s great.
SS: Right? I was all “Go, Diana Ross!”
GW: You mentioned the ‘queens’ – and when I worked with Diana Ross, you know, we were really performing for three audiences at once; the Black audience, the Gay audience, and the Jewish audience. Best audience in the world. Absolutely. Best audience in the world.
SS: You’re lookin’ at two-outta-three, here. (Three, if below-the-waist counts…)
GW: (chuckles) I also got fired by Diana Ross at Caesars Palace.
GW: Yeah. It was back in the day, and at least fifty percent of the audience was gay. “I'm Coming Out” and “Upside Down” were hits, and when gay people love you, they love you; so they gave me a standing ovation. Meanwhile, she's ready to come out, and that's an extra minute, minute-and-a-half of time that I had to kill just saying "Thank you, thank you," It's just—Well, I got fired. But she hired me back two weeks later. So that's that.
Anyhow, about eight years ago she came back to Caesars Palace. And I said, "I'm here in town, across the street, working. Matter of fact, I'm going to come over and open for you.” She asks, "Are you crazy?" I say, "Well, you're the first one that brought me here." She says, "You are crazy! Let’s do it again." And it was the audience was just like the one we’d had there, back in the 1980s.
Continued in Part 2 - but until then, heed Wallace’s thoughts on travel, “When you’re in Las Vegas, you can go see Blue Man, or you can come see the black man.”
George Wallace | WALLACE @ WESTGATE
Westgate Cabaret | Westgate Las Vegas
Click HERE for info and tickets
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