Friday, May 11, 2018

Comedy Cellar Las Vegas

Over the past 36 years the Comedy Cellar, located in the basement of a restaurant in New York has become known for having some of the best comics on stage.

The careers of many successful comedians were launched at the Cellar such as Colin Quinn, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Chris Rock to name a few. Whether or not their specific sets get many laughs on any given night, if they have talent they're given a time slot and the mic at the CC.

The Comedy Cellar is also known as a place where up and comers along with legendary comics drop by regularly to do a set and work on their act. On any given night you might see Dave Chappelle, Dave Attell, Leslie Jones or Tracy Morgan try out fresh material.

The Comedy Cellar recently opened a spot in Las Vegas on Flamingo Blvd at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino. The atmosphere has been designed to match much of the original Comedy Cellar, an intimate room with a small stage and a brick wall behind it just like it's namesake. Although unlike the original it's not actually in a cellar.

The show format the Comedy Cellar uses most often is to have several comedians a night that go on for about 20 minutes each, sort of like a comedy relay team.

Last night my sister Karen and I caught a show at our new desert Comedy Cellar. It started off with a host, in this case Mark Cohen who reminded me of Mark Linn-Baker in his Perfect Strangers days. Mark did a lot of audience banter starting with my sister and I, (that's what we get for sitting in the front row).

After Mark was Mia Jackson who is six feet tall even in flat black leather sneakers and successfully contrasted her statuesque physical presence with a soft spoken delivery. I enjoyed her stories about adventures in eating.

Next up was Brian Moses, who started off seeming to have almost nothing to say as if he was surprised to be on stage. We laughed though when he called Karen and I The Real Housewives of Reno. Brian did an intense set using the name LeBron James a lot. I'll leave it at that. The energy lightened up a bit with Jason Scoop who amused the house as he extolled the virtues of being ethnically ambiguous.

Following Jason was Des Bishop, who looked like a cross between a Ken Doll and GQ model and was as hilarious as he was, (to use a vintage word), dashing. Matteo Lane finished us off with his take on the ridiculous intensity of cooking shows and his love/hate relationship with Starbucks. 

Here's hoping the Comedy Cellar has found a long term home here in Las Vegas. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

An Afternoon with Billy Joel

I love a Sunday Matinee and I enjoyed this show.  It shared the story of Billy Joel's life and musical journey through stories, photos and of course, songs! This type of tribute performance is special because it's more than just a performer singing hit songs of an artist. It explores the life of the legend and provides a better understanding of them as a performer and as a person.

A song is more meaningful when you hear the story behind it. For example one of Billy Joel's most well known hits, Piano Man was written and inspired during the time he was waiting out the end of a record contract with a label he no longer wanted to be a part of. He performed during that period at a bar using the fake name Bill Martin. Uptown Girl and Tell Her About It were inspired in part by his beautiful ex wife Christie Brinkley and  Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel) came to him while reading bedtime stories to his daughter. 

Frank LaSpina and CB Goodheart

This stage biography was put on by Frank LaSpina and CB Goodheart.  CB did a beautiful job with Billy Joel's songs as lead vocalist and Frank was a spirited narrator of some of the highlights of Joel's life.

The next upcoming artist tribute will be held at Myron's Cabaret Jazz in Las Vegas on June 10, featuring Ray Charles: The Musical Stage Biography, performed by Dru Young. Additional shows this year will be July 1, August 5, September 9, October 7, November 4, and December 2.

Frank LaSpina is the founder of the Musical Arts Scholarship Program. This foundation provides singing and music lessons to talented children and young adults. For more info or to get involved email Frank at

Friday, May 4, 2018

Getting Back on the Horse

When I was very young we moved into a new house in rural Minnesota that my father and grandfather helped build. Even though it was out in the boondocks it was a step up for us. Our family of six had been squeezed into a small place in a neighborhood outside of Minneapolis that was not the best place to raise children. My mother had another baby on the way and my parents did well by getting us out of there. 

Our new house in the country was on a spacious two acres, and although it had no farm we were surrounded by them. For me, the best part of all this were the horses! As a child, seeing horses every day became something I was used to.  Whether on the school bus or walking down our dirt roads our neighborhood was like my own personal zoo with horses behind every neighbor’s fence. Sometimes out of nowhere a horse would wander into our front yard or behind our garage to nibble on the grass. We’d tell mom and she’d start calling around to find out who was missing one of their herd. Awhile later someone would show up with reins and a bit and off they'd go. Local motorists had to be careful for horseback riders who shared our roads. These weren’t cowboys, just people exercising their animals.

One of my chores was to hang the wet laundry on the line in the backyard. The neighbor’s horses would walk up to the edge of their fence and stick their noses over the wooden rail, just watching.  I’d talk to them to help pass the time. They were good listeners. Sometimes I’d put some sugar on my hand and they’d lick it off.  We weren’t supposed to do that but I couldn’t resist as I was confident the horses wouldn’t bite me.

I was a happy kid when on a horse
People often wonder why girls like horses so much. I think it's because they're so strong but also very gentle. There's no such thing as a mean horse, a wild one maybe, but not mean.  

Occasionally my sisters and I would get a chance to ride one of our neighbor’s horses. Jennifer, who had a few somewhat wild steeds provided us access anytime we wanted as long as she was with us. We’d take them on long rides into the woods. It was fun but the hairs on the back of my neck would be standing up the whole  time because we rode bareback a lot. I couldn't show my fear though as Jennifer warned me the horse gets nervous and can sense when the rider is afraid. 

My other friend Sherry had well trained horses and she’d let me ride on the back of her horse with her sometimes. Sherry was an accomplished young rider and I felt safe with safe as one can feel on a giant animal, that is. The last time I ever rode with Sherry was on her pony and it got stung by a bee and took off running in a full gallop like it was shot out of a cannon! She remained calm and got control again and then dropped me off the pony at the end of my gravel driveway so she could get it home and give it first aid. I was just glad I hadn't gone flying off the back!

When I finished high school and left my parent’s home, horses and farms were suddenly no longer a part of my life.  I never went back to the rural life but  when I visit my dad at that same house I always look out the car window for the neighbors horses behind those fences.

Recently I went hiking with my husband at Red Springs which is near our house in Las Vegas. We drove by a horse stable and when that familiar smell of leather and hay hit me I said “I’m going to ride a horse again. It’s time.”  Horses are one of the happier memories of my childhood, and riding one again is a gift I’m going to give myself.

Monday, April 2, 2018

He was a Toys R Us Kid

A 25 year old entrepreneur named Charles Lazarus opened a baby supply store named Children's Supermart back in 1948. He did it to fill a growing demand during the baby boom after the end of World War II. That same store became the Toys R Us chain and after surviving for 70 years, went bankrupt last month. Lazarus died one week later. 

We've all gotten used to store closings in the era of Amazon but the death of Toys R Us seems to pull at the heart strings more than most. It was not only a store, but an experience and a memory embedded in the childhoods of many. 

Guy Chapman's mini-documentary (below) takes you on a personal journey of the rise and fall of Toys R Us. He also exposes a sinister side of the reason for the failure of the chain. His childhood and the memories created by Toys R Us brought tears to my eyes as it also reflects upon the end of an era. As Guy says, getting a toy in the mail from a warehouse is not quite the same to a little kid as trying it out first at the store.

The end of Toys R Us is for myself and anyone born before 1985 a reminder that we were really the last children raised with a tangible life, where a person's formative years were spent in a world connecting more with people, places and things than online.  We weren't growing up flooded with constant stimuli competing for our attention and artificial intelligence was not a part of our daily lives. Like it or not a new day is here and most of us who didn't grow up with it are making it work because we have to and also want's a love/hate situation with technology. As Jasper from the Simpsons would say "What a Time to Be Alive."  

Speaking of memories the final day of business for Toys R Us (and Babies R Us) is June 30. The stores are still open and holding their liquidation sales. There are a few months left to stop in, bring a kid and make a final Toys R Us memory.

Link to the Toys R Us video

More from Guy Chapman, Corsicana Daily Sun columnist

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Healthy Non-Candy Easter or Gift Baskets

Easter Baskets have been an enduring tradition for hundreds of years.  There's a reason for that because they're fun to make for your kids, friends or a loved one!

Instead of making yourself or your recipients feel guilty for eating sugar and junk food, here are some great ideas for creating an Easter Basket of healthy snacks and fun stuff from YouTuber Nicole Pano.

If you're doing one for an adult it's easy to replace toys with small gifts such as a printed photo in a frame, a deck of cards, home made baked goods, small book or notepad, hair accessories, candles, etc. Also, your basket doesn't have to be a basket, it can be a decorative box, a pretty bowl, or any container you choose. Happy Easter!

URL Link to video: