Vinnie Favorito takes insult comedy to a new level
By Matt Kelemen
Photography by Christopher DeVargas
A lot of entertainers have been called “the hardest-working” fill-in-the-blank in their respective fields. Not many of them work seven nights a week, but Vinnie Favorito has been filling Bugsy’s Cabaret at the Flamingo every evening—save for special occasions like taking his kids trick-or-treating—since the Summer Olympics took place in Beijing. Before Bugsy’s, it was O’Sheas, then Binion’s downtown. Now, after five years at the Flamingo, Favorito has just signed on for seven more. The question is, can the audiences take it?
Favorito is arguably Las Vegas’ pre-eminent exponent of, for lack of a better term, “insult comedy.” Don Rickles, of course, is the godfather, but the contemporary comedy scene boasts Lisa Lampanelli, Jeffrey Ross, Jim Norton, Anthony Jeselnik and Daniel Tosh. As in-demand as he is on the private-event roasting circuit, Favorito barely promotes himself. He prefers to rely on word-of-mouth, repeat clientele and his inherent ability to bust chops. He doesn’t just hurl insults. He gets to know his audience, gets a feel for who he can zero in on, then lets loose with a barrage of button-pushing provocations that gets his target so off-balance they can’t help but laugh along with everyone else.
Another comedian possessing without-a-net fearlessness might have been more of a direct lineage than Rickles. “When I used to work at the Improv at Tropicana, George Carlin used to be at Bally’s all the time,” recalls Favorito, citing an incident from the early ’90s. “He came to see me the first time, then a second time, and he came up to me and said, ‘I am a true fan. You walk that line, and just when you think you’re going to go way over, you come back out, and you smell like a rose.’ That’s what it’s all about. They wanted me to be the edgiest show in Las Vegas, and that’s what we go for.”
Nothing is sacred—almost. Race is a factor, with Favorito taking all the “insult” out of stereotypes as he pushes buttons. He says he can figure a person out in 30 seconds, a talent that goes back to growing up in Boston during the city’s racially charged era of school integration. Favorito was not a big guy, so he learned to talk his way out of trouble and employ just the right amount of shock value to distract but not get beat up. That created a confidence that Favorito thrives on to this day. He doesn’t insult celebrities who fire back on Twitter. He roasts people who pay to be there.
“You can see this show, you can see that show, but I know that I’m going to be one of the shows that’s remembered because I was nuts!” says Favorito. “‘You won’t believe what this guy said. That’s who I want to be and that’s who I am. I stand by what I do, and let’s face it: a one-man show in Vegas, no national name and I’m going on 10 years now. I’m pretty proud of that. To keep a show going in Vegas is no easy task.”