When the Reno-Lake Tahoe area first saw Brad Garrett, he was the opening act for bigger stars. He had yet to become a regular on "Everybody Loves Raymond" and was, like so many comedians of those days, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno included, learning the ropes, developing the chops and enduring an educational anonymity.
"I was a lucky pup, though. I was onstage with some of the best, and I learned everything from them," Garrett said. "But it was apparent every performance as the show was announced that I was the last person they wanted to see. I felt about as welcome when I walked out on the stage as I did when I was first married and came home."
Garrett was talking from Los Angeles on his way to Las Vegas, where he has opened Brad Garrett's Comedy Club in the Tropicana Hotel. He'll be seen in Reno at the Atlantis on Friday. For the past six years, he's taken the starring spot on the marquee. That's what a hit sitcom can do for a comedian, even a supporting player, and "Everybody Loves Raymond" often has been cited as having had a perfect ensemble cast.
Do not, however, expect to see Robert, the brother of Raymond. Garrett is a stand-up vet, and his act is not for kids, despite the many voices he's done for animated features.
He was just heard as the giant in "Hoodwinked 2," was the hook-handed thug in last year's "Tangled" and has done many others, Auguste Gusteau in "Ratatouille" Dim the Beetle in "A Bug's Life," among them.
"My next is another Pixar movie called 'Planes,' in the line of 'Cars.' I told them their next movie should be 'Luggage,' " he said, achieving the "deadpan effect" over the telephone.
"I also just filmed a small part in a movie for David Chase, nothing major, but I did it because I could work with him. I play a record producer in the rock 'n' roll business."
And, oh yeah, he's opened a hit comedy club on the Las Vegas Strip. Benefiting from his name, it has been outdrawing the venerable Improv, according to him. It's also in the same location of a previous celebrity-named club, Dangerfield's.
"The Tropicana is a perfect venue, one of the original of the Strip hotels. The club is run kind of like the old days and a lot of the Vegas veterans have been coming Rich Little, Sammy Shore, Steve Rossi," Garrett said. "It's won the Best of Vegas award.
"And I'm very hands-on. I told them I can't take the room over if I can't run it the way I want to run it. There are times I'm literally seating people. Vegas is a very competitive town.
"I had the room remodeled to look like the older Vegas nightspots, so it's a trip into the past in a way, a lot of tradition."
Garrett has also just finished filming a season of "I Kid" for TLC, a new show he hosts. He describes it as "a little like 'Kids Do the Darndest Things.' "
"Cable (TV) offers so many more opportunities, and they've opened it up, especially for comics," he said. "They risk taking that extra step."
Not that Garrett isn't into risks anyhow. He's known for playing poker, a pastime he loves so much it's become an avocation.
"I've got a grip on the chips. I'm a spokesman for AGA Poker. I'm being coached by Annie Duke. I'm taking it seriously," he said.
"A lot of Hollywood people turn to poker. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to play. No matter how smart you are, it all comes down to the flop. I've played with all the pros. I talk a lot at the table. I'm the only one who's left Mike 'The Mouth' Matusow speechless.
"In poker, everybody can be a hero for 10 minutes, like Hollywood, but it takes us out of our crazy world, as does golf. Celebrities tend to play poker and golf."
Also in comedy this week, Seth Meyers makes his northern Nevada debut Saturday at the MontBleu on Tahoe's South Shore. Anchor of "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live," Meyers has a keen wit and a finger on the pulse of contemporary culture; he, after all, wrote the Sarah Palin material for Tina Fey, comedy that had wide-reaching political impact.
Meyers is known for his spot-on impressions of John Kerry, Anderson Cooper, Carrot Top and Tom Cruise. In addition, like Dana Carvey and Martin Short before him, he's created some of SNL's most memorable characters, in his case Nerod, the receptionist at Appalachian Emergency Room; William Fitzpatrick, the host of "Top o' the Morning," and Zach Ricky, the host of "Pranksters," a kids hidden-camera show.
What: Brad Garrett, who played Robert Barone, brother of Raymond in "Everybody Loves Raymond," has a comedy club in Las Vegas, but he'll soon be yukking it up in Reno.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Atlantis Hotel-Casino
Cost: $42, $52
Information: (800) 723-6500 or http://atlantiscasino.com
What: Beware the laughs! Seth Meyers, a star and head writer of "Saturday Night Live," brings his keen wit.
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: MontBleu, Stateline, Nev., (Lake Tahoe)
Cost: $30, $40
Information: (800) 235-8259 or http://montbleuresort.com