Friday, Jan. 30, 2004 | 3:24 a.m.
Who: George Wallace.
When: 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; dark Sundays and Mondays.
Where: Flamingo Las Vegas Showroom.
Tickets: $35.50, $46.50.
Information: (702) 733-3111.
Comedian George Wallace is a man who is serious about his comedy.
The native of Atlanta says he always knew that eventually he would become a stand-up comic, but he was determined not to be a starving artist.
Wallace attended the University of Akron, Ohio, became a successful salesman and in 1976 stepped into the entertainment spotlight.
Since then he has become one of the most popular comedians in the country, appearing on every major talk show, in films and in concerts.
Wallace has opened for such entertainers as Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Smokey Robinson, Donna Summer, Natalie Cole, The Pointer Sisters, George Benson and Paul Anka.
His closest friend for 28 years has been comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Wallace was the best man at Seinfeld's wedding.
On Jan. 16 Wallace became the headliner at the Flamingo Las Vegas, replacing The Amazing Johnathan, who has returned to the Golden Nugget.
Wallace, 54, recently discussed his new gig, and other topics, with the Sun.
Las Vegas Sun: You have the same name as the late governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace. Did that ever create any interesting situations?
George Wallace: No. I've been doing stand-up comedy for 28 years. These new kids, they don't even know who he was, or they have forgotten about him.
My fans are a cross section of the country, young, old, black, white, gangbangers -- but I don't get a lot of gangbangers at my shows.
Sun: When you were growing up, were you the class clown?
GW: I was never the clown, I was just humorous. I wasn't even close to being a clown. I was more of an instigator. I would get you in trouble, but not me.
Sun: What was it like, growing up in Atlanta?
GW: Atlanta is a great city for African-Americans. I grew up around Dr. Martin Luther King and people like that. When we grew up in the South, you were part of the community group, you worked for things like the March of Dimes.
Even as a kid, I always had to have a bank account. My parents were community leaders. We had a lot of parties at our house, it was a place to hang out. There were seven of us kids, and I was the baby. Everybody spent the night at our house. Kids stopped by all the time. We had the house in the neighborhood were all the kids stopped. Everybody knew us. Our family was huge.
I still have a house in Atlanta.
Sun: When did you decide you were going to be a comedian?
GW: When I was 6 years old. I was influenced by Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Johnny Carson -- people like that.
I always had an ambition to make people laugh, but not laugh as a comedian, but to make people happy. That's what makes me happy, to make other people happy.
Sun: Is that because of the way your grew up?
GW: I believe so. I grew up in a very happy family atmosphere.
Sun: You became a comedian a little later in your life than most comics. Why was that?
GW: I heard a lot of old comics say how tough it was. They didn't know where their next meal was coming from. So I did everything backwards. I never wanted to be a young, starving comedian. I admired Redd Foxx and Rodney Dangerfield, who were older when they got started.
Sun: What did you do?
GW: After college I worked my way up to vice president of one of the largest outdoor advertising agencies in the country. Back then (in the early '70s) I was making between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. That was my intention, to get a degree, to work and build a financial cushion before I got into comedy.
At the same time I was working, I was appearing in comedy clubs in New York.
Sun: How did you make the transition from businessman to full-time comedian?
GW: I moved to Los Angeles, selling ad space in New York City to record companies in L.A. One night I went to the Comedy Store and did my act and one of the producers of "The Redd Foxx Show" invited me to write for the show.
Sun: When did you first perform in Las Vegas?
GW: In 1981. I opened for Diana Ross at Caesars. I really didn't know anything back then. I was learning. I worked with her for a year and a half, five times a year at Caesars. Then I left her and opened for Tom Jones for five years.
Sun: What is the source of your comedy?
GW: It's taken from everyday life, observations from everyday life. I say things people only think about.
Sun: What's your show at the Flamingo like?
GW: You never know what's going to happen. Everybody's going to be stopping by. Jerry Seinfeld joined me onstage on opening night. Chris Rock will be stopping by. Star Jones. Jay Leno. Anyone who's in town may show up and just walk out across the stage.
I'm giving the Flamingo 30 days. This is the toughest audience in the world, but comedy is what I do for a living. I live and breathe it. I have a passion, I love to go to work.