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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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