What an improbable journey it has been for former sportswriter-turned-standup comedian Sam Adams. He went from covering John Elway’s heroics to making his first headlining gig on Las Vegas Boulevard tonight.
Okay, so it’s not a paid gig and he paid for his own airfare. And he could have played the injury card and dropped out after partially tearing an Achilles tendon last Sunday at a charity basketball game for kids.
Adams, 57, admits he “had no business being out there” with ex-NBA players. “But we were raising monies for special needs youth, and I’ll jump through hoops to help kids.”
When the opportunity came up to perform on the famed Strip — and help homeless kids — Adams signed up.
He’s headlining the Laughing Matters Comedy Show, a Junior League of Las Vegas-sponsored benefit for the Shannon West Homeless Center. Adams and three Las Vegas-based comedians agreed to do the fundraiser at the V Theater from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
“If you can, please mention the others on the bill — Lou Magelowitz, AK McMorris and Paul Scally. They’re donating their time too,” Adams said via Facebook.
Full disclosure here: I worked in the Rocky Mountain News sports department with Sam. He covered the Broncos, and I covered the new guys on the block, the Colorado Rockies, before heading to Las Vegas to cover the celebrity scene.
I was aware Sam was dabbling in comedy back then and heard he later traded sports deadlines for the world of one-liners.
So how did he end up in Planet Hollywood, not far from where Britney Spears performs in the big room?
“I was contacted, by accident actually, from someone who thought I was a local Vegas comic,” said Adams.
He received a Facebook message a couple months ago from Lauren Byrge of the Junior League of Las Vegas. “Confusion ensued regarding me not being from Vegas,” he said, “but when she told me what the event is for, I thought it'd be great to do a show and then spend a night hanging out in Vegas.”
Adams said he “was fine with doing a seven-minute set Laura said all the comics would perform. I sent her a YouTube link, for the Junior League board/committee to see me in action.”
Bryge got back to him, saying her group wanted him to do a 20-minute set to close the event. Adams was cool with that. Comedians never know when the next showcase is going to be the next big break.
The main turning point in his career came in 2000 after covering the Sydney Summer Olympics. “I was burned out,” the Cleveland native said.
He wasn't going to leave the newspaper business, “but I needed something different to do, to escape to deadline monotony of the reporting business.”
A friend of mine who performed comedy a decade earlier suggested “I should try comedy. I ignored him. In spring 2001, I called him.”
Adams’ friend gave him some pointers, and helped him get in the Denver Comedy Works for a new talent show.
“It was a rollercoaster two-minute set,” he said. “I got a few laughs, liked it and kept going back for more. With each passing year I got better at it, and was spending free weekends traveling to small places like Cedar Falls, Iowa and Minot, North Dakota to perform at clubs.
“In January 2009 I entered a contest — the Great American Comedy Festival, held in Johnny Carson's childhood hometown, Norfolk, Nebraska.”
The first round of competition took place in Falls City Neb., and Adams advanced to the finals of what turned out to be the festival's amateurs competition.
There was nothing funny about what happened next. In Feb., 2009 the Rocky Mountain News closed. Without his main job, Adams focused on a standup comedy career.
“The festival finals were in June, in Norfolk and I won the amateurs. The pro competition featured 24 hand-picked comics who had credits from the Leno and Letterman shows, Comedy Central, Last Comic Standing, etc.
“One of the pros dropped out at the last minute due to illness. The festival committee decided to add me as the replacement. I had just lost my job, 49 years old and didn't know what was next.
“When they told me first prize was $5,000 I got funnier real fast! Two of the judges were Bill Dana and David Brenner. The third judge was Wende Curtis, Comedy Works' owner. She didn't have me on her list of club regulars, so it was an interesting experience for her to see me competing with the chosen pros.”
Eddie Brill, Letterman's talent coordinator at the time, was the festival's executive producer. “In the end I finished second, which got me $3,000.”
When Adams returned to Denver, Curtis added him to the list of regulars at Comedy Works, “and more doors started opening for me. I've been a professional comic since. One gig will be a Chamber of Commerce dinner in Hay Springs, Nebraska, the next a corporate awards dinner in Tahoe. But I enjoy the grind and the grins that come from performing.”
He’ll be wearing a boot on stage due to the injury. “The Laughing Matter organizers don’t know about the injury, but the show must go on,” he said.
Shecky breaks a leg
Comedy legend Shecky Greene, who turns 91 next week, was recovering Friday from surgery for a broken leg while trying to get on a stage to do some schtick.
He hasn’t lost his sense of humor, said longtime friend Gene Kilroy. “He was joking around,” said Kilroy, one of the few guests allowed in Greene’s room at St. Rose Domican Hospital-Siena campus in Henderson.
Greene tripped while attempting to step onto a small stage Wednesday at the Italian American Club, where he was dining with friends.
When Kilroy, who was having dinner with him, rushed up to offer assistance, “He said, ‘I broke my leg’ and he was right.’”
The scene and heard
A flashback to my March 6, 2016 archives: “A name to watch in the UNLV coaching hunt: South Carolina’s Frank Martin, formerly at Kansas State.
“Key UNLV boosters love his emotion.
“He has engineered a major turnaround at South Carolina. In their fourth season under Martin, the Gamecocks started the year 15-0 and finished 24-7, their best mark in 20 years.”
A year later, Martin has seventh seed South Carolina (25-10) in the Elite 8 after a 70-50 win over Baylor on Friday in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
UNLV hired Chris Beard, who bailed out a month later to take the Texas Tech job. New Mexico State’s Marvin Menzies ended up at UNLV and triggered a rebuilding program that started with an 11-21 record.
On this day…
March 25, 2003: Celine Dion premieres her concert extravaganza, “A New Day…,” at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in a 4,200-seat, $95 million theater built especially for the show. In its four-year run, “A New Day…” draws three million fans and grosses $400 million.
The punch line
“In international news, police in Italy have arrested 10 people for stealing more than $250,000 in fine wine and gourmet cheese. Yes, their motive is they were hosting a book club.” — James Corden.