Irish Gift of Gab

George Casey was born in a remote seaside village on the west coast of Ireland, legendary for its storytelling. But it certainly wasn’t a place to think of a career as a comedian. Ireland is filled with musicians and dancers, it’s part of just about everybody’s genetic makeup. And Casey was one of them.
Growing up in a large family, Casey saw humor everywhere and honed his skills as a comic at the expense of his brothers and sisters, but he never fancied himself as a professional spinner of tales.
It wasn’t until he moved to America, however, that he decided to give comedy a try, and for more than 30 years now, he has been entertaining audiences all over the U.S., being dubbed the “King of Blarney,” as one of the cleanest comedians working today. He is also a popular entertainer on cruise ships, spending most of his year cruising around the world as a headliner for all the major lines including Seabourn, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Oceania, Queen Elizabeth and more.
He has toured with national acts such as Rosemary Clooney, Melissa Manchester, Charley Pride, The Osmond Brothers, Ray Price, Three Dog Night and Bobby Vinton. Casey performed with Vinton as his special guest comedy star in Vinton’s Blue Velvet Theatre in Branson, Missouri, until its closure in 2002.
He has performed at Caesar’s Palace, The Sahara, and was a regular act at The Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He also works a variety of private parties and corporate events. Now he spends a night in port, and travels to the land of Laughlin to perform at the Avi Resort & Casino on Friday, March 15.
We talked with George Casey about his comedy, his career, and the show he brings to Laughlin. Here’s his take…

Talk little about your background and how you got into comedy. There’s all kinds of music in Ireland, but you don’t hear too much about comedians there, do you?
That’s a great question because I didn’t do comedy when I lived in Ireland. There were a few comedians I liked and that I would follow but I was playing the guitar and singing the Irish folk songs, exactly like what you’re talking about, going through the pubs and all that. Then I immigrated to America in 1970, I kept doing the same thing, and then I had this weird thing, I had trouble with my vocal chords and I kind of started telling stories to give myself a little break in between. I found out I was better at that than I was at singing — and I could write. I could see a situation and write about it and make it funny. If I saw about something that was happening in the news that day or something, I could make it funny. Then I found out for every hundred singers there was one comedian and I realized, “whoa, there’s more money here.” So I backed into it … typical Irishman.

Where was the first place in America you did comedy?
I did it in Chicago. I immigrated to Chicago. There was a man there that owned a nightclub and he saw some potential in me. In those days, you couldn’t just walk into America, you had to be sponsored. Immigration was very tough in those days, and he liked what I did and he said, “I’ll sponsor you on one condition, that you sign a three–year contract to perform in my nightclub.” And I worked for him there for three years. He was more of a coach, and he was really good. I was singing more then, but I was telling stories. Irish people love stories anyway so we’re always telling what we call yarns and stories, you know? We’ve got great people skills and it just comes naturally.

Who were some of your influences?
It was mostly the old timers from the Catskills, the old Jack Bennys and the Johnny Carsons and then later when I started doing the comedy clubs, I got to know them — Robin Williams and people like that. You got to hang out with them. The comedy clubs we had to do back then, there was no money in them — there still isn’t today — but you needed somewhere to develop your act and when you put your act together, you’d work from there, and I’ve been fortunate ever since. I’ve not been a household name, but if you go to my website, you’ll see I’m always busy, so that’s good.

Describe your comedy for people who may not be aware.
One thing I developed, which is why I do very well on cruise ships — I do 30 cruise ships a year sometimes dealing with 30 different nationalities — comedy has to be very universal. If it’s about family — they have to be able to relate, even if it’s a family from another country, as well. You’ve gotta be clean, you’ve gotta be politically correct — which is getting harder every day, but I mean I know that’s my job, and I have to do it. And I find I can reach more people by being a family or clean comedian than you can as a vulgar comedian. I’m not a prude or anything, but I just know you reach more people that way.

What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had doing comedy?
I remember one time getting a really nice job — it was a corporate job, for the Panasonic Corporation. I lived, at the time, in Chicago. They flew me down to Florida. I had worked before for the CEO, a lovely Jewish man in Pebble Beach and I was successful there at their convention, so he said, “I’m going to get this guy back for our international one, where they’re all in from around the world.” I was up, and there was just nothing happening, it was like you could hear the tumbleweeds on stage behind me, I even said to this day, I must have been wearing socks because my shoes would go squeak, squeak, squeak as I walked along. But I heard some laughter in the back, but not in the front. I was supposed to do a 50-minute show, I think I was 20 minutes into it and it was obvious it wasn’t working, so I just make a little funny, and said you in the back selling TVs or computers or whatever you do, I’m having a bad day as well, so I can’t prolong this any longer, and I walked off the stage. I was never that upset. I had tears in my eyes because I’ve never failed like that. I went to the CEO and said, “Don’t worry about the check, I don’t want any money, I just want to get outta here. It’s a disaster.” He says, “No, it’s my fault.” I asked, “Why would it be your fault? I’m the comedian.” Then he said the first 30 tables were all Japanese. They had no idea what you were talking about, and then with your Irish accent it was even harder.”
I’m not ashamed to say that it was so embarrassing but it really was an eye-opener. Everything in life, I always say, you learn from it and the one thing I learned from that show was never go on stage unless you have a wireless mic because if I knew about wireless, and I heard something in the back of the room, I’d have walked down there, and I would have done some improv or something, I would have made something happen.
The younger guys starting out who ask my advice today when they come up and they like my comedy, I always tell ’em, “you’ll never be a really great comedian until you absolutely fall on your face.” You have to fall flat on your face. I don’t even mean that night, a lot of nights you ask yourself, “Why did it work last night and not tonight?” It just takes a lot of time and rhythm and confidence — it’s not arrogance — it’s confidence and believing in what you’ve written and that it works. And that’s when it all comes together. I’m still learning, You’re always learning.

What was the best laugh you ever got?
I had a line in my head and I would tell it to my wife. She’s my little “punchline bag,” I play things off her all the time — and I ran this line by her and she said, “I don’t know, George, that’s kind of questionable. She knows I do a lot of wife jokes, like typical comedians, so she’s often supportive and often even tells me or helps me out with something. I kept hanging on to this one thing after a year, finally I said, to her, “I love this one,” so I tried it one night. “I think my wife is cheating on me, because we’ve have the same mailman, (or as we say in Ireland, postman) for the last 32 years, even though we’ve lived in four different cities.” In other words, he kept moving when I moved. I remember the first night I did it, I got a great response and I made it better as the nights went on, but that first night is when I said, “That’s a keeper. That’s going in the vault.” I knew that one was going to always be there. When I’m in the hole, I pull out that one. We all have that one in our routines that we go to, we know we’ll get the crowd back with it.

Which comedian makes you laugh your butt off?
Well, there was one that made the hugest impact — Robin Williams. I mean he was the complete comedian, he was like a little firefly in a bottle, he was just so explosive, and he made everything happen. It was so sad when he passed away, you know? Some people say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, he was one of those I liked.

What’s your favorite thing about being a comedian?
You’re always invited out to dinner, even if I’m on a cruise ship. And if I’m on the very high-end ships, we host a table. The cruise director always tells me when they call a passenger and ask, “Did you see the comedian last night? Oh, yeah, how would you like to have dinner with him tonight?” And he says, we always fill your table up right away. They like it, and being Irish as well, there’s something about the Irish. There’s a lovable way about us — it’s the simplicity, the innocence and the lovable Irish way that rolls off our tongue. And it comes from the heart being an Irishman telling comedy. It’s been very advantageous in some ways, I think it has. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, either, and stay within just that one crowd, I can hide my accent, but there’s no way to get around it, so it’s in the comedy — I start out with a few Irish jokes, and I finish with it, but my comedy is very universal in the middle. It’s about everyday stuff — going to the airport, kids getting tattoos, kids doing this, everything, even Facebook — comedy is everywhere. I keep saying, you can find clean comedy, and you can find it without really trying.

How do you handle hecklers?
We did get a lot in the beginning — as everybody does — but not so much any more. I actually like ’em. Not hecklers, but I love rapping with the audience. I try not to ever be taking a cheap shot. It’s like if there’s a little guy in front and I’m talking and he’s friendly — it’s an old joke if he has no hair, I might say, “I like a guy who cuts his own hair,” but I would never get mean with anybody in that sense, but maybe a jab. In the old days, the hecklers were good for the show, but the one thing you learned is to never go after them until you know you have the audience first. If you don’t have the audience, you’ll lose everybody. Just let him make an ass of himself to where he’s interfering with their fun and then you come down on ’em. And then try to do it in kind of a nice way, maybe mention a comparison to a donkey, but in a polite way.

Anything else you’d like people to know about you?
I would like to think it’s a light, entertaining show, I’ve been told my timing is very good. You don’t learn that, God gave you that and your rhythm, it’s just born into you. It’s a very entertaining show, it’s old stories and it’s about everyday stuff.


GEORGE CASEY

Grand Ballroom at the Avi

Friday, March 15 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info