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.

story continues below

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." (Read more Las Vegas stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.