Published Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 | 7 a.m.
Updated Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 | 9:22 a.m.
*Check out this story with accompanying photos at VegasDeLuxe.com.*
While Mr. Vegas DeLuxe Robin Leach is on vacation and attempting to work as little as possible from afar, Vegas DeLuxe will be featuring celebrity guest columnists for the first half of this month until Robin’s return. If you’re knowledgeable about Las Vegas, the names should be familiar. Today, Monte Carlo headliner Lance Burton shines the spotlight on his longtime comedic guest star juggler Michael Goudeau.
Hi, I’m Lance Burton, and I’d like to introduce you to my longtime comedic guest star juggler Michael Goudeau via Robin Leach’s Web site. Michael has been my silent unsung hero since 1991. He gives me a break at halftime and entertains the audience while I prepare for the rest of the show. He will tell you how he ended up performing for 18 years in my show at the Hacienda and now at the Monte Carlo.
There’s much more to Michael’s career than his talent in performing in the show. Come and see him for yourself, and you will find out why he is the longest-running specialty act on the Strip.
Michael: Thanks for the intro, Lance.
I can distinctly remember the first time Robin Leach spoke to me. We were at the old Hacienda, and Robin was yelling to me down a backstage hallway, “Michael Goudeau! Champaign wishes to you!”
It made me a little dizzy. Now he’s a friend and has asked me to write a bio of myself for his blog while he’s on vacation in Italy.
I guess I’m really in show business.
There have been a few moments when it has really hit me. Moments like when I met Johnny Carson or George Carlin or Don Knotts. Once Rich Little did an impersonation of me for my mother. At one point, I got to write gags for my heroes, the Smothers Brothers. Thanks to my work writing with Penn & Teller, I’ve even walked the red carpet at the Emmy Awards. I found out a couple of weeks ago that we’ve been nominated again. Maybe this is the year we win.
Somehow, I’ve gone from juggling and passing a hat on the streets to being the most successful juggler in Las Vegas history. How did it happen?
It’s important to have a plan in life. Pick a goal and work hard to achieve it. Mine has always been perfectly clear to me. I tested out of high school early and headed straight to college because I knew exactly what I wanted to be: a forest ranger.
I never even got close. I blame this incredible failure on my parents. When I was 14, they bought me a unicycle. At 16, they gave me a book on juggling. I don’t know why they did it. It wasn’t some family thing. They both worked with computers. I had no interest in being in a circus. I liked learning to ride the unicycle and to juggle, but they were social activities that I did with friends. They had no special significance to me. My friends and I spent a lot of time trying to stuff whole Hostess fruit pies into our mouths, too.
One day I saw a couple of jugglers doing a show at a Renaissance fair. They got a lot of laughs, and at the end of the show, they walked around the crowd with their hats out, and people gave them money. As an unemployed high school student, having a funny juggling show seemed more interesting than the fast food or movie theater jobs my friends had. I couldn’t juggle well enough to do a good show, but youthful enthusiasm and volume covered up my lack of skills. I started doing shows at street fairs and festivals and anywhere else I could find.
A year later, I was in college studying plant biology but getting better and better juggling jobs. In 1979, I got a call from the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus Clown College. The funniest people I knew had all been through this fine institution (including Penn Jillette). When the chance came up, I had to go. I left my academic career with the idea that I’d be back soon. Somehow, my parents’ plan had worked. I was in the circus.
Things started moving quickly. In 1983, I landed my first Las Vegas juggling gig. It was Les Folies Bergere at the Tropicana. Lance Burton also was in the show. He was pulling birds and cards out of nowhere. I was pretty annoyed that I couldn’t figure out how he was doing it. Even standing in the wings of the theater, I couldn’t catch him. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I had a videotape of Lance from his first appearance on The Tonight Show. I had already spent hours replaying that tape in slow motion with no luck.
Les Folies Bergere turned out to be the biggest break of my life. Not only did I meet Lance, who turned out to be a great magician and friend, I met the woman who would become my wife. She was the lead singer in the show, and I was more than a little smitten.
I worked a long series of shows here in Las Vegas before Lance finally managed to get his own show going in 1991. I’ve done shows at The Sands, The Marina, The Hacienda, The Dunes … all hotels that were torn down. Maybe they weren’t destroyed because I had moved on, but I’m sure going to claim they were if I ever write an autobiography.
In 1991, Lance convinced The Hacienda that he should have a chance to create his own show. We were pretty excited about the opportunity, but the hotel wasn’t quite as positive. One of the executives in the hotel told me I had to buy my own microphone because they didn’t want to waste money buying something that wouldn’t be used very long. I’ve still got the microphone. The hotel is gone.
By the mid 1990s, I realized that I had latched onto something most jugglers can’t even dream about: a steady gig. I suspect that I might be the only juggler in the world with health insurance and a 401k. I didn’t think life could get any better. It did.
In 1998, Penn & Teller had sold a TV show titled Penn & Teller’s Sin City Spectacular. It was a variety show like Ed Sullivan’s but with Penn & Teller’s sensibilities. I was hired as a writer, and I helped to create magic and comedy bits for Penn & Teller and for their guests. I met Eric Idle, Martin Mull, Alice Cooper, Lyle Lovett, Gilbert Gottfried and a huge variety of other celebrities. This was when I had the chance to meet and work with the Smothers Brothers. We did 24 episodes of the show, and I loved it.
Sin City Spectacular was my first try at writing something that I wasn’t going to say onstage myself. Even though I was now a TV writer, I still had some of that clown college training in me. I wrote a bit where Lyle hit himself in the face with a pie. During this time, I also learned the magic of writing. If you type into a script, “Penn and Teller tap dance in a submarine,” the next time you walk into the studio, there is a choreographer holding tap shoes for Penn & Teller, the band is practicing a new song about tap dancing in a submarine, and there is a giant submarine.
A short time after Sin City Spectacular ended, Penn & Teller started a new TV series on Showtime, Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t! I managed to weasel my way into a writing position on the show. We’re now into our seventh season. It’s the longest-running series in Showtime history, and the ratings are somehow better than they’ve ever been. We’ve received a pile of Emmy nominations for the show. I’m pretty sure we can’t ever win. Not that the show isn’t great. I just don’t think anyone will stand onstage and read, “And the winner is Bullsh*t.”
Today, I juggle five nights a week in the Lance Burton show at the Monte Carlo, write TV shows with Penn & Teller and speeches, and I perform at trade shows, corporate shows and anywhere else a funny juggler can get a job. You can find out more at michaelgoudeau.com. Things have gone pretty well for me, with one exception: About a year ago, I realized that I probably wasn’t going to make it back to the forest ranger thing.
Lance: Even I learned some things about Michael from this. Come see both of us at the Monte Carlo.
It’s going to be a sexy weekend with five Fantasy Girls from the Luxor, and on Monday, the Luxor trend continues with zany comic Carrot Top.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground. Read more of Robin's stories at VegasDeLuxe.com.
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