Starving Performers Swarm Vegas Streets

Tough times drive costumed impersonators to Strip, challenging big hotels

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jun 27, 2011 6:11 PM CDT

(Newser) – Nevada's woeful economy has inspired dozens of jobless and under-employed men and women to dress up like celebrities, movie characters, and cartoon heroes in pursuit of a buck. But the gratuity-driven performances have created tension between Las Vegas' mighty gambling industry and free-speech advocates who defend the constitutional rights of adults in spandex pants, rainbow wigs, and foam muscles. The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip allegedly detained a man dressed like Zorro last year after he posed for a tourist's camera on a public sidewalk bordering the hotel-casino, and now, Zorro is defending himself with a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union instead of a sword.

But the Silver State's lagging job market makes the creative panhandling more about rent than free speech. A man who gave only his stage name as GB Entertainer is a 55-year-old Rick James impersonator who moved to Las Vegas 11 years ago with dreams of starring in a celebrity impersonation show. Entertainer began hustling on Fremont Street last year after nearly all his paid gigs disappeared. As James, Entertainer said he earns $75 in tips on his best days. When it's slow, he might make $14. He poses in a red sequined suit and zebra-printed boots six nights a week. "I'm tired of it really, because I belong on stage," Entertainer said as he collected a few $1 tips. "It's fun sometimes, but mostly it's degrading. It's embarrassing."

James Miller, left, and Robyn Vanderlip pose with a tourist as Mickey and Minnie Mouse along The Strip, Saturday, June 25, 2011, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
James Miller takes a break from posing as Mickey Mouse for tips from tourists in an alcove away from the crowds along The Strip, Saturday, June 25, 2011, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Robyn Vanderlip takes a break from posing as Minne Mouse for tips from tourists in an alcove away from the crowds along The Strip, Saturday, June 25, 2011, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Robyn Vanderlip, left, and James Miller take a break behind a restaurant along The Strip after several hours of posing as Minnie and Mickey Mouse for tips, Saturday, June 25, 2011, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Robyn Vanderlip walks along The Strip after posing as Minnie Mouse with tourists for nine hours, Saturday, June 25, 2011, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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