Carl LaBove was an original “Outlaw of Comedy.” But this outlaw was one of the good guys, universally revered by his fellow comics and the stand-up community across the country.
“I have seen thousands of comics in 20-plus years in the business, and there’s been nobody better than Carl,” said Cindy Nelson, manager of Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM Grand and a 24-year veteran of the comedy industry. “I have never seen him have a bad show, ever. Everybody in the industry knows who he his. I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him. I can’t tell you how rare that is in the comedy world.”
LaBove died Friday afternoon at his home in Las Vegas after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 62.
“He was idolized on and off the stage,” Garrett, who had booked LaBove for a decade, said Friday. “He had some of the best casino bits. Legendary. This is very sad.”
A celebration of LaBove’s life and career is planned for Garrett’s club in the Underground at MGM Grand, as soon as audiences are allowed back into the venue. The event won’t be at the temporary Studio A & B space at the MGM Grand Garden Arena entrance. LaBove specifically requested to be honored at the actual comedy club.
Carrot Top and opener Rob Sherwood cut a clip in LaBove’s honor on Friday night, toasting an image of LeBove after Carrot Top’s show at Luxor Theater. The headliner posted on his Instagram account, “We lost one of the best today. Carl LaBove as not only one of the funniest, talented people but one of the sweetest.”
Laugh Factory manager and headlining comic Harry Basil arranged for a tribute to LaBove to be shown through the weekend from the Trop’s marquee facing the Strip.
LaBove gained fame in the 1980s as a member of “The Outlaws of Comedy,” co-founded by his friend Sam Kinison and featuring such pros as Allan Stephan and the late Mitchell Walters. The veteran comic was especially close to Kinison as “The Outlaws” became a top draw on the road. He was a passenger with Kinison when Kinison was killed in an auto accident April 10, 1992, on U.S. 95 near Needles, California. The two were on their way to a show in Laughlin.
LaBove rarely talked of the incident publicly. But he did revive the “Outlaws” brand when he, Stephan and Walters reunited at the Laugh Factory at the Tropicana in July 2017. It was the only time they appeared on the same Vegas bill after their “Outlaws” days.
Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, LaBove had headlined at several Las Vegas clubs over the years, including Garrett’s club, Laugh Factory, Windows Showroom at Bally’s and Sin City Comedy & Burlesque at V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.
LaBove also made several appearances on “The Tonight Show” and on Showtime, HBO and also cut two concert CDs and a live-concert special. He was featured in Showtime’s 2020 series on the history of the Comedy Store in Hollywood.
Basil met LaBove in 1982, at the Comedy Store, Mitzi Shore’s legendary staging venue for rising comics, and established stars trying out new material. He became friends with Shore’s son and fellow headliner, Pauly Shore.
Basil had booked LaBove in a midnight series at Laugh Factory on 2018-2019.
“Carl was part of the L.A. comedy boom in the 1980s, with ‘The Outlaws,’” Basil said. “They were like a rock-and-roll comedy troupe. Sam could be a little tough to get close to, but Carl was really loved and had the most talent. He wasn’t obnoxious, but he was always ‘on,’ and whether he liked it or not was always the center of attention.”
This was especially true when comics descended on the Laugh Factory green room for “HarryOke,” Basil’s late-night (and early morning) karaoke party. LaBove’s dance moves, and his contributions to such classics as “Heartache Tonight” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.” were performed with appreciable zeal.
LaBove was known as a great story-teller but also employed precision physical comedy. His “cop walk” was a satire of a police officer’s strut while issuing a traffic ticket. His “casino walk” was a drunk tourist zigzagging through a hotel, a routine locals especially appreciated.
“He was a great physical comedian,” Basil said. “He used his entire body in these bits.”
LaBove also often arrived onstage pretending to be excessively drunk (though he was famously sober), slurring through his opening monologue.
“He walked out as if he was plastered after I introduced him,” Garrett said. “He’d play it for three minutes, and you could hear a pin drop. Then he’s stop the ruse and the audience would be blown away at what a good actor he was, too.”
Nelson noticed a groundswell of discomfort during the routine.
“He’d play that to the point where it was really uncomfortable and people were saying, ‘I paid good money for this?’ I had a couple actually get up and walk out one time, and I had to stop them,” Nelson said. “I told them, ‘Just wait one more minute.’ And afterward they said, ‘I’m so glad you stopped us because that was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at [email protected] Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.